Tunisia climate tense one year after historic poll

AFP , Sunday 21 Oct 2012

Tunisia on Tuesday celebrates a year since its first free elections in a political climate marked by tensions within the national assembly, a stalled new constitution and sporadic violence

October 23, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the vote which brought the National Constituent Assembly into being and vindicated the mass uprising that toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

But reflecting the deep divisions within Tunisia, no single event has been organised to mark the date, with demonstrations and gatherings planned separately by the various political strands.

However, on the day the Assembly will convene in the presence of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and President Moncef Marzouki.

For months, the ruling coalition, led by Jebali's moderate Islamist party Ennahda, and the opposition have stumbled from crisis to crisis over proposed legislation in the interim parliament.

Tensions within the legislature have translated into violence on the ground. .The latest incident led to the death of an opposition party representative in the southern town of Tataouine on Thursday, when a demonstration by pro-Ennahda activists degenerated into violence.

The opposition Call of Tunisia has said Lotfi Naguedh's death was a "premeditated political assassination," the first since the revolution, while the Islamists denied responsibility, blaming the violence on the victim's party.

Tunisian daily La Presse warned on Saturday of "political fanaticism" gripping the country and hampering cooperation. "Civil society and the political parties are more than ever called on to play their role as a bastion against this creeping spectre of political violence," it said.

President Marzouki, an ally of the opposition Islamists, has sought to calm tensions, on Friday urging "all parties to look at themselves" and appealing for "a phase of dialogue." Tunisia's main trade union, the UGTT, tried last week to organise such a dialogue, inviting some 60 political groups to cooperate in thrashing out the details of the draft constitution.

But two key parties in the ruling coalition, Ennahda and Marzouki's Congress for the Republic, boycotted the meeting due to the presence of Call of Tunisia, founded by ex-premier Beji Caid Essebsi, who they consider a remnant of the former regime.

The meeting resulted in the rejection, by those parties that did attend, of a proposal by the government to hold elections on June 23, and with no agreement on a timetable for adopting the new constitution.

Essebsi's increasingly popular party claims the government will lose its legitimacy on October 23, a year after the Assembly was elected, because it was committed to drafting a new constitution within 12 months.

"The democratic process has stalled. The electoral legitimacy will come to an end on October 23," said Essebsi, whose party is a staunch opponent of the Islamists in power and wants the formation of a national unity government.

The paralysis gripping Tunisia a year after its historic ballot comes on top of a wave of violence blamed on the minority Salafist movement that culminated in an attack on the US embassy in September that left four people dead.

Protests have also multiplied over the government's failure to address social and economic grievances such as unemployment and high living costs, key factors behind last year's revolution, particular in poorer areas of central Tunisia.

And a dispute between the authorities and media has aggravated political tensions, with journalists staging a national strike last Wednesday, accusing the Islamist-led government of undermining press freedom.

The government has in turn insisted on the need to purge an industry it claims is still controlled by members of the deposed regime.

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