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Tunisia

Plethora of parties stand for Tunisia's new Constituent Assembly

Reuters/Louafi Larbi

In what is being hailed as the first election after the Arab Spring, Tunisians go to the polls Sunday. They are electing a Constituent Assembly that will draw up a new constitution and decide how the head of state will chosen and a wide variety of parties and views are expected to be represented.

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Under deposed President Zine el Abbedine Ben Ali the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD) was all-powerful. Now there 80 parties and thousands of independents are contesting the election.

But, although voters expressed enthusiasm, only half of those eligible to vote have registered on electoral rolls, RFI's Laurent Chaffard reports from Tunis.

The elected representatives will have to decide whether the country has a presidential or parliamentary system and what balance of power will exist between the executive and legislative powers and the judiciary.

The Tunisian election comes 10 months after President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of power by a popular uprising:

  • About 7.2 million people are eligible to vote;
  • 217 seats in the Constituent Assembly are up for grabs;
  • 11,000 candidates are standing;
  • Half of the candidates are women;
  • 80 political parties and thousands of independents are taking part;
  • Vote counting will start at 7.00 pm local time;
  • Final results are to be released Monday.

Opinion polls, whose reliability have yet to be tested, predict that the Islamist Ennada (Renaissance) will win 20-30 per cent.

The party was banned under Ben Ali, which has boosted its credibility today, and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, lived in exile in London for decades.

Ghannouchi has promised not to call for the installation of Islamic Sharia law or change the status of women, which is the most advanced in the Arab world.

But left-leaning parties claim that Ennada may have a hidden agenda, although they have failed to form a secular coalition.

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The social-democratic Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), led by Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, has campaigned hard against the Islamists, while also calling for a minimum wage and foreign investment.

Ettakotol, led by Mustapha Ben Jaafar, has stressed the importance of rooting out the massive corruption that is Ben Ali’s principal legacy and calls for transparency in public life.

Although the RCD has been banned and many of its leaders forbidden to stand for office, several of them maintain influence, either through business or through political parties that they have set up.

Among them are former foreign affairs minister Kamel Morjane, who has founded the Initiative party, and former interior minister Mohammed Jegham, who has founded El Watan.

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