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Thursday, October 20, 2011

MEPs cast watchful eye over Tunisia's road to democracy

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News Sunday, Tunisian voters are called to turn the page after the Arab Spring. At the request of Tunisia, MEPs will be responsible for ensuring the proper conduct of the election.

Just nine months after toppling President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia will take its first steps towards democracy when it holds elections Sunday for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The EP is sending 15 MEPs to help assess the process. The MEPs are part of an EU Election Observation Mission that will make sure the election is conducted in line with Tunisia's commitments to international standards. "We hope that these elections will set an important precedent in the region," becoming a model for other countries that have also had revolutions (Egypt, Libya) and those that are still fighting (Syria, Yemen, Bahrain), delegation head Gabriele Albertini said. An interim government was formed after Ben Ali fled, but the political and economic situation remain unstable. Tunisians will vote for a constituent assembly to replace the interim government and draft a new constitution. Impetus for democracy After 23 years of dictatorship, Tunisia lacks a political culture. However, around 100 political parties have been registered and about 10,000 candidates will run in the elections, almost half of them independent. But there are concerns: about voter turnout - in a recent poll 26% of respondents said they didn't plan to vote - and about the weight of the Islamic party. The three main political forces are expected to be: the Islamist al-Nahda Party, the left leaning Progressive Democratic Party and the centre-right Democratic Forum of Labour and Liberties. Getting a fragile economy back on track The revolution has caused a downturn in Tunisia's economy, partly due to the 45% decline in tourism. Growth fell to 1.3% from 3.7% before the Jasmine revolution, while employment stands at 14%, including 150,000 highly-skilled young people, according to the Interior Minister. Another problem the new government must tackle is the huge disparities between the north and the much poorer south of the country. The elections are seen as an opportunity to stabilise the country, reassure foreign investors and tourists and restart the economy. EU supporting democratic elections In total, the EU is sending 130 people to observe and assist with the elections. MEP Michael Gahler, will lead the EU Election Observation Mission, which includes the EP Election Observation Mission. Gahler's team will remain in Tunisia until 13 November, having arrived on 8 September. The aim of the EP's mission is "to bring our experience as elected parliamentarians to bear in observing how the process is conducted," Mr Albertini said. EU officials will give their preliminary observations on Tuesday 25 October at a press conference in Tunis at 1200 CET.

Source :  Press room - European Parliament


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