More than 40,000 police and soldiers will mobilise around Tunisia for the first Arab Spring elections
Soldiers stand on Bourguiba avenue in Tunis on October 20, 2011, ahead of a historic national election in Tunisia. More than 40,000 police and soldiers will mobilise around Tunisia for the first Arab Spring elections, officials said as tensions built ahead of the historic vote. © Lionel Bonaventure - AFP
More than 40,000 police and soldiers will mobilise around Tunisia for the first Arab Spring elections
Cecile Feuillatre, AFP
Last updated: October 21, 2011

Final day of campaigning for Tunisian elections

Campaigning closes in Tunisia Friday, two days before its first democratic elections, with a formerly banned Islamist party poised to dominate an assembly that will pave the way for a new government.

Nine months after the ouster of strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that sparked region-wide pro-democracy uprisings, more than seven million potential voters will have a final chance to hear the main parties' election promises at closing rallies planned countrywide.

Campaigning closes at midnight.

On Sunday, three days after the Arab Spring claimed its latest victim with the killing of Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, Tunisians will seek to turn the page on decades of post-colonial autocratic rule by electing 217 members of a constituent assembly from more than 10,000 candidates.

Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi urged Tunisians on Thursday to go 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, had warned Wednesday of a risk of voter fraud and vowed new uprisings if this was the case.

The election system has been designed to include as many parties as possible in the assembly that will re-write the constitution.

The body will have to address such crucial issues as the form of the new government and the guaranteeing of basic rights, including gender equality 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 ouster of a dictator to launch their own revolutions which have since toppled the rulers of Egypt and Libya and still threaten others.

Few could have imagined that the self-immolation on December 17 of Tunisian fruitseller Mohamed Bouazizi in a protest against his socio-economic plight would launch a popular movement that ousted the seemingly untouchable Ben Ali less than a month later.

Ben Ali had made himself an ally of the West by posing as a rampart against Islamism and the guarantor of the country's economic success.

In an ironic twist, the Islamist Ennahda banned by Ben Ali is now polled to win the biggest bloc of votes, partly due to its charity work in poor parts of the country, mainly inland, largely ignored for investment by the previous regime.

Claiming to model itself on Muslim Turkey's secular state model, Ennahda has sought to reassure the 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.

The leftist political spectrum stands divided before Ennahda, with more than 100 political parties in all contesting Sunday's vote.

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

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