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Tunisia passes landmark election law for November vote

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-02

Tunisian lawmakers adopted a sweeping electoral law Thursday that paves the way for November's general elections. The law requires party lists for the vote to be half women and half men, and allows members of the ousted regime to run for office.

The elections are now expected no later than November 23.

The members of the National Constituent Assembly approved the law after weeks of heated debate over its 270 articles. The overall law was approved 132-11 with nine abstentions.

A major bone of contention that led to insults being traded was over a proposed ban on officials of the ousted regime from standing for office, a proposal which was rejected by a single vote.

The planned elections aim to create permanent institutions in the country that in 2011 spawned the Arab Spring but which remains plagued by prolonged political crises, social conflict and a rise of jihadist groups.

The body responsible for organising the elections, the ISIE, still has no budget, no office and no legislation on which to base its work.

The ISIE has said that it would need between six and eight months to organise elections once the law was passed.

Its head, Chafik Sarsar, told AFP he was "absolutely" convinced that elections could now go ahead as planned before the end of the year.

The legislative polls are to be held on a single, first-past-the-post basis by constituencies, rather than fixing a threshold, while the presidential election is to be staged over two rounds and will require a majority vote.

The law's adoption comes three months after the approval of a new constitution that was hailed by Western countries as a transition towards democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Some deputies said the law's provisions do not go far enough and will split the vote in the legislative polls.

"I'm divided between bitterness and relief... bitter because there is no threshold... and will split the vote," said Karima Souid of the leftist, secular party Massar.

"But relief because the ISIE can now start work. We were very late, but this is an important step," added Souid, an opponent of Ennahda, the Islamist movement which holds the majority in parliament.

Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa told AFP in interview last week that he was determined to proceed with elections this year but that they could still be delayed by organisational problems.

Jomaa said "there is always a risk of having to postpone the elections, and the longer the delay the greater the risk."

He ruled himself out as a candidate in the polls.

His administration's main task is to organise elections to provide Tunisia with the sustainable institutions it has lacked since the January 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

After the constitution was adopted, Ennahda finally agreed to hand over power to a government of independents tasked with leading Tunisia to polls.

Analysts welcomed the endorsement of the election law but voiced caution.

"On paper it's all right, but everything depends on its implementation," said Selim Kharrat, who has closely followed the constituent assembly's work.

"The spotlight will now be on the ISIE and on its work. And it only has very little time," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2014-05-02

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