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Tunisian MPs in heated debates over polls, constitution

Anti-Islamist opposition in Tunisia rejects a political road map including the finalization of constitution in July and elections in October

AFP , Tuesday 12 Mar 2013
Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, Tunisia's main Islamist political party, delivers a speech during a meeting regarding International Women's Day in Tunis March 10, 2013. International Women's Day fell on March 8 (Photo: Reuters)

Tunisian opposition MPs on Monday rejected as "unrealistic" plans to hold a July vote on a long-delayed constitution and schedule new elections in October, with the debate on the calendar due to resume on Tuesday.

"The discussions will continue on Tuesday," said Moufdi Mssedi, an official from the presidency of the National Constituent Assembly.

MPs will vote on the timetable on Tuesday at the earliest, Mssedi added, with the new government line-up headed by Islamist premier-designate Ali Larayedh also due to be put to a vote of confidence, as part of efforts to resolve a political crisis.

"The dates fixed for the elections are unrealistic," said independent MP Mohamed Allouch. "We reckon that the elections cannot take place before March 2014... Let's stop lying to the Tunisian people and tell them the truth," he added.

"We denounce this hastiness concerning the calendar" of the elections, Democratic Alliance party MP Mohamed Hamdi said after the office of the president of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) announced the proposed dates.

The tight political calendar stipulates that the constitution should be completed on April 27 with a final vote set for July 8, as each article must be first debated and then approved by an absolute majority of MPs.

The date of October 27 was also proposed for Tunisia's next legislative and presidential polls, after an electoral law is adopted on September 13.

Earlier deputy Mehrezia Labidi, who belongs to Larayedh's ruling Islamist Ennahda party, led Rached Ghannouchi, by  posted the dates on her Facebook page although she did not give a precise timetable for the adoption of the constitution.    

Wafa movement MP Hazad Badi urged his fellow deputies "to vote to withdraw confidence from the speaker" Mustapha Ben Jaafar.

But the head of the parliamentary bloc of the ruling Ennahda, Sabhi Attig, disagreed and said he was "fine with the dates."

Several political timetables drawn up since Ennahda's sweeping election victory in the first post-revolution poll have not been respected.

More than two years after mass protests that toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired revolutions in other Arab Spring countries, Tunisia is still without a fixed political system due to a lack of consensus between the main parties.

Ennahda is pushing for a pure parliamentary system while others are demanding that the president retain key powers.

Assembly speaker Ben Jaafar has called for an end to the tug-of-war, with the political uncertainty in Tunisia exacerbated by social tensions and the growing influence of militant Islamist groups.

"We must abandon narrow party interests even if that means making sacrifices, retreating. It is in the interests of Tunisians," Ben Jaafar, whose secular Ettakatol is one of Ennahda's partners in the outgoing three-party coalition, said at the weekend.

"Our people are patient but their patience has its limits, we must attend to their problems," he added.

Aside from the parliamentary deadlock, Tunisia has been grappling with a political crisis triggered by the killing last month of Chokri Belaid.

There are hopes that it may finally be able to overcome this crisis, which brought down the government of Hamadi Jabali, if Larayedh's new line-up gets approved by parliament on Tuesday.

Larayedh, who served as interior minister under Jebali, has said his cabinet would work "to the end of 2013 at the latest," indicating that elections would take place before the third anniversary of the revolution in January 2014.

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