Tunisia Islamists say fear election delay planned

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Tunisia’s main Islamist party said it had withdrawn from a body charged with preparing for elections after this year’s uprising, saying it feared further plans by interim authorities to delay the vote.

A committee of electoral monitors — which includes the main political parties — this month postponed to October 23 from July a vote for a special assembly to write a new constitution after the collapse of Zin al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-three year rule.
“The committee is trying to take over the role of an elected parliamentary body and there is an attempt to take over the authority of the constituent assembly,” Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi told a news conference, Reuters reports.
“We have withdrawn completely since there is a minority that wants to impose its authority on the rest and we want to send a message to the people that the aims of the revolution are not being realised… We have serious doubts that the election will be held on October 23.”

The North African Arab state, seen as a Western ally under Ben Ali against al Qaeda and Islamist militancy, has been in limbo since Ben Ali fled on January 14 in the face of a popular revolt, unleashing a wave of pro-democracy protest movements across the Arab world.

The road map to a new democratic Tunisia involves the constituent assembly election in October, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections sometime next year.

But the body charged with preparing the way for that vote — known as the “higher body for realising the aims of the revolution” — has come under attack from Ennahda.

It says the leftist, secular groups who dominate the body are forming draft legislation in advance of the October vote — on media and political parties — without putting them to a vote. It also created a body to supervise the elections.

Analysts and diplomats say the body may be trying to shape the constitution in advance of the election, in case Ennahda emerges with a mandate to Islamise it.

Ennahda says any further delay could expose the country of 10 million sandwiched between Libya and Algeria to violence.

In the weeks following Ben Ali’s ouster there were some clashes between the army — which portrays an image of standing above the political fray — and Ben Ali loyalists.

On Monday police used teargas in the southern town of Gabes to break up a strike by a labour union representing security forces who fear trials over shooting at protesters in January.

CONCERN OVER ISLAMISTS

Many Tunisians fear that “counter-revolutionary” forces from the Ben Ali era — government officials, opposition figures who learned to live with his rule and business elites — are reluctant to allow a more political and economic system, partly for fear of Ennahda.
“The old guard has its interests. They are keen to keep the situation as is with only some changes in laws, investment and development,” newspaper columnist Salah Attia said.
“People agreed to a constituent assembly, not this. This is the secular groups trying to marginalise Ennahda. The idea is to hem them in,” he added.

The United States and European powers, erstwhile allies of Ben Ali, are keen for Tunisia to maintain its pro-Western orientation and the interim government is conducting talks with Western governments and financial institutions on loans.

Ennahda is seen as having an advantage over other parties because of an organisational structure honed in London and other capitals while in exile during Ben Ali’s time. Secular parties would have more time to organise if elections were delayed.

The body has not yet produced a list of names of Ben Ali loyalists who cannot run for election. Without such a list the October vote will be in doubt and Ennahda fears this is the aim.
“Another year before parliament elections will give more time for agreement on the system of government and time for parties to raise their profile,” a Western diplomat said.



He said there was also a plan to draw up a “republican charter” before the October 23 vote which would include a commitment to Tunisia’s secular political system.
“Ennahda are not opposed to the charter, but they don’t like the way debate is moving on it. They are annoyed that this committee is dominated by secular chattering classes,” he said.