Tunisia vote: Campaigning wraps up

2011-10-21 22:17

Tunis - Campaigning closes in Tunisia on Friday, two days before its first democratic elections, as the birthplace of the Arab Spring celebrated the fall of its latest victim, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

"It's over!" the French-language Le Quotidien screamed on its front page splashed with a picture of the dictator captured and killed nine months after Tunisians sparked a region-wide revolt by ousting their own strongman, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

More than seven million eligible voters have a final chance to hear the main parties' election promises at closing rallies planned countrywide on Friday.

Campaigning closes at midnight, with a formerly banned Islamist party poised to dominate a 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and pave the way for a new government.

Despite the proximity of the historic polls, newspapers in the capital dedicated their front pages to Gaddafi’s death on Thursday at the hands of fighters of the new regime in an assault on his hometown Sirte.

They published grim photographs of his bloodied corpse, and stressed that the focus must now be on building a democratic Libya.

"The Tunisian experience currently under way could be a source of inspiration and of encouragement for the Libyan people," the French-language La Presse daily editorialised.

"Two peoples who suffered decades of oppression are today free. Both will benefit from working together to preserve this reclaimed freedom and to entrench it in democratic institutions, barring forever the possibility of dictatorship returning."

Ben Ali met a less gruesome fate than that of his neighbour, bowing to a popular uprising against poverty and corruption under his rule and fleeing to Saudi Arabia in January.

More than 100 political parties

Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi urged Tunisians on Thursday to vote "without fear" and sought to give assurances that the poll will be fair.

The Islamist Ennahda, predicted by pollsters to win up to 30 percent of the votes, has warned of vote-rigging and vowed new uprisings if it detects electoral fraud.

The election system has been designed to include as many parties as possible in the constituent assembly.

The body will have to address such crucial issues as the form of the new government and guarantees of basic rights, including gender equality, which many fear Ennahda would seek to diminish.

It will also have the loaded task of appointing a president who will assign a caretaker government to run the country for the duration of the drafting process, expected to take a year.

The stakes are high. The success or failure of the election will send a strong signal to the people of the Arab world who drew courage from Tunisia's revolutionary example.

Claiming to model itself on Muslim Turkey's secular state, frontrunner Ennahda has sought to reassure a divided electorate by promising not to carve away at women's rights, widely considered the most liberal in the Arab world.

But secularists have denounced what they call the party's double-speak, accusing it of being modernist in public but radical in the mosques.

More than 100 political parties in all will contest Sunday's polls, most of them leftist, but top left-wing leaders have ruled out a pre-vote alliance.

For the first time in history, the election is organised by an independent electoral commission, which is expected to announce the results on Monday.