Tunisians living in former colonial ruler France will elect 10 of the 18 'expat' seats in the Tunisian poll
A woman and a girl look at electoral posters on October 19, 2011 in Tunis. Tunisians living abroad voted Thursday in the first post-Arab Spring free election, three days before their compatriots at home go to the polls to turn the page on 23 years of autocratic rule. © Fethi Belaid - AFP
Tunisians living in former colonial ruler France will elect 10 of the 18 'expat' seats in the Tunisian poll
Last updated: October 20, 2011

Tunisians abroad vote in first Arab Spring election

Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi Thursday urged citizens to vote "without fear" in the country's first elections since the January ousting of president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

"I assure citizens that the election will go off well, and urge them to do their electoral duty without fear" on Sunday, Essebsi said after a cabinet meeting, in an address broadcast on public television.

He also sought to assure the public that there will be no power vacuum between a new, caretaker government and the one he leads.

"There is no reason to fear a power vacuum as the government will continue to run the country until power is passed on, not before November 9," he said.

Tunisians will vote Sunday for an assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a president who will form a new government to lead the country for the duration of the drafting process, expected to take a year.

"The task of the (current) provisional government will end and power will be passed on to a team to be designated by the assembly," Essebsi said.

"All those who will be elected by the people are welcome, whoever they are," he said, with the Islamist Ennahda party expected to win the biggest bloc of votes.

"Go vote, and we guarantee that all will go well, we will prove to the whole world that democracy can succeed in the third world, and that a country whose people are Muslim can succeed."

Campaigning closes Friday ahead of the historic elections, the first since the start of the Arab Spring uprisings that were sparked by Ben Ali's toppling in a surprise wave of street protests against poverty and corruption.

An estimated seven million eligible voters can on Sunday elect the 217-member assembly of constitution drafters from among more than 10,000 candidates.

Ennahda had warned Wednesday of a risk of voter fraud, and vowed a fresh uprising if this was the case.

"It is not possible for there to be fraud," said Essebsi.

"Those who doubt the electoral process ... it as if they doubt themselves."

The prime minister added that some in Tunisia "do not want elections and consider them ungodly. They seek to convince not by dialogue, but by force," -- an apparent reference to recent violent protests by ultra-conservative Salafists against signs of secularisation.

Essebsi's interim government has been in power since February 28.

It followed two earlier caretaker governments formed after Ben Ali's ouster but dismantled amid ongoing protests about their links to the former regime and the pace of transformation.

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