Vote delayed until October, Tunisia's interim PM says
Tunisia will postpone its first elections since long-time leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted earlier this year until Oct. 23, interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi (pictured) said Wednesday. The vote had been planned for July 24.
AFP - Tunisia postponed on Wednesday its first election following the ouster of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by three months to October 23 in a bid to ensure the vote is "free and transparent".
The interim government agreed to a request from the electoral commission to delay the vote scheduled for July, saying the country had a "reputation to protect."
"We have taken into account all the views and have decided to hold the elections on October 23," caretaker Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi told a meeting of political parties, regional representatives and civil society.
"The most important thing is the transparency of the elections," he said, while calling for an end to strikes and protests ahead of the vote.
The election of a constituent assembly was originally scheduled for July 24 but the electoral commission had asked for a postponement to October 16, saying it needed more time to organise a credible and transparent vote.
"There are parties who did not agree, even the government did not agree, but our mission is to hold free and transparent elections," said Essebsi, adding that Tunisia and its revolution "have a reputation that we must protect".
"We have a choice: to dissolve the commission, return to elections organised by the interior minister and fall back to the flaws of the the old regime, or keep the commission. We have decided to keep it," he said.
Negotiations have been taking place between political groups for several weeks to try to establish a date for the first election since the fall of Ben Ali on January 14, who was forced to cede power after 23 years following a popular uprising.
The former ruler fled to Saudia Arabia and is facing criminal charges in his homeland.
He has been accused along with his wife Leila Trabelsi over weapons, drugs and $27 million in cash allegedly uncovered in their residences.
Most of the smaller political parties, created following the fall of the old regime, were in favour of a delay to the election to give them more time to prepare.
Islamist group Ennahda had previously insisted on a July poll however, stressing the need for stability in the country.
The crucial election will see the creation of an assembly charged with drawing up a new constitution to replace that of the former dictatorial regime and will be closely watched by the international community.
Essebsi called for an end to strikes and protest movements ahead of the vote. The country, with its struggling economy, "will not put up with such disruption," he said.
"We need to stop all forms of strikes and protests urgently ahead of preparations for democratic, free and transparent elections on October 23," he told media.
"The country's economic and social situation will not allow for such disruptions," Essebsi said, citing the revolt's damaging effect on the economy and the impact of the crisis in neighbouring Libya.
Tunisia's economy shrank by 7.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, battered by the drop in tourism revenues.
The government fears a rise in unemployment from 13 percent in 2010 to 20 percent this year.