Last updated: 1 October, 2011

Campaigning begins in historic Tunisia poll

Electioneering began on Saturday ahead of Tunisia’s historic October 23 elections following the toppling of long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Ben Ali’s ouster in January sparked the so-called Arab Spring and Tunisia is the first of the countries where popular revolts took place to go to the polls.

“A date with destiny” and “The final straight”, were the headlines in two French-language newspapers on Saturday, welcoming the official start of campaigning.

In the capital Tunis, posters emblazoned with the faces of party leaders were pasted on portions of city wall reserved for the purpose.

The north African country will in three weeks elect a 218-member constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution for the country ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls.

The Islamist movement Ennahda (Renaissance), considered the favourite to win the polls, symbolically launched its campaign in Sidi Bouzid — the town where street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17 in protest at police harassment, touching off a popular uprising that led to Ben Ali’s ouster after 23 years at helm.

Ennahda had been banned as a political movement under Ben Ali who in 2009 was re-elected with 89.6 percent of the vote in a widely criticised election result.

Ben Ali’s Rally for Constitutional Democracy was dissolved by a court in March.

Nearly 11,000 candidates are due to contest the elections in 27 districts, with opinion polls showing that the profusion has left voters sceptical and undecided.

“It is a first democratic election, it is a complex operation and there is a lot of work to do explaining” things to voters, said Maria Espinosa, deputy head of the European Union observer mission.

She said she felt “confident” about the process in what she described as a “productive and transparent climate.”

Tunisians abroad will elect 19 members of the assembly in a separate vote on October 20, 21 and 22.