- Title: TUNISIA: Campaigning intensifies ahead of landmark Tunisian elections
- Date: 22nd October 2011
- Summary: WOMEN CLAPPING
- Embargoed: 6th November 2011 12:00
- Location: Tunisia, Tunisia
- Country: Tunisia
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAA08N8B1BKVW16YZG4WIPQ7BSR
- Story Text: Political campaigning in Tunisia was under full swing Thursday (October 20) as parties made use of the last few days to convince people to vote for them ahead of a landmark election on.
Tunisians should vote without fear of rigging or any violence in the first free election after an uprising earlier this year, the prime minister Beji Caid Sebsi said.
The constituent assembly will write a new constitution before new parliamentary elections, and is also expected to form a new interim government in Tunisia. It follows an uprising that ousted ruler of 23 years Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year.
With over 110 parties and 11,000 candidates taking part in this Sunday's elections, many Tunisians are confused by the process and the manifesto of each party and candidate.
Out of 7 million Tunisians, some 4 million have registered to vote so far, but more are expected to turn out on the day.
In one industrial part of town, volunteers of Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which is expected to do well, were out in full force on the streets handing out leaflets and shouting the party's name to local residents.
Trailing behind was PDP's main female candidate, Maya Jridi, who have come to this area to convince locals to vote for her party and not her main rival Ennahda, which has shown to be most popular in polls so far.
There is no shortage of people approaching Jridi expressing their concerns, demands and worries.
Mohammed al-Rahimi stopped Jridi to tell her that he was voting not just for himself but for the future of his children and that he was concerned about the big social demands people were expecting to be met after the elections.
"I worry about this period, how people are asking for major social changes, because the average citizen, I am school graduate but I know that this is not the time for big social changes, it's just not the right time, we have to be patient, we need things to go smoothly first, and then we can be demanding," he said.
The moderate islamist party, Ennahda is widely expected to come ahead of the elections, but the maximum they can get is 30 percent of the assembly seats, as set by the law.
But Jridi was optimistic of her party's chances and said they will accept any outcome.
"The political process and the election process, especially when they are both being done for the first time, will mean any outcome is possible and all politicians should take that into account."
Ennahda is expected to hold a big rally in a stadium on Friday in the same area Jridi is in, high turnout is expected.
The Tunisian vote is the first election in Arab countries that have seen protest movements remove autocrats who had long ruled though bloated security apparatus and Western backing.
After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January, Egyptians ousted Hosni Mubarak and Libyan rebels brought down Muammar Gaddafi with help from NATO. Rulers in Syria and Yemen are clinging to power and others have been forced to make concessions to appease restive populations for fear of unrest.
On Thursday, PDP's main rival, Ennahda was holding one of its regular public meetings where women sit separately to men, uncommon in secular Tunisia.
The party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who wasn't at that particular meeting, said on Thursday (October 20) that Ennahda would accept the results and was in talks with other parties on creating a post-election alliance including a coalition government.
Ennahda has been keen to allay the fears of secular parties and Tunisia's Western allies over the future of a country that was a pioneer among Arab and Muslim nations in the sphere of women's rights and tried to keep religion out of public life.
But the Islamist party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that is also placed to do well in Egyptian elections later this year, faces competition from several secular parties which also suffered under Ben Ali's rule.
Woman candidate from the Kotob Party, which has entered into a coalition with other socialist parties (known as Democratic Modernist Pole or PDM), know that they they have a tough competition ahead and to ensure their gains, candidate Amal Bilkhairiya was out campaigning to up her party's stakes.
Parties opposed to Ennahda seem to take similar campaign technique of taking against their main rival.
Bilkhairiya manages to convince one elderly woman she speaks to at the fruit and vegetable market, to vote for Kotob, which has a white star as its party logo.
"All is well, god willing, they will look after our youth and tackle unemployment and we are with them, white star (party logo), we are with you," the woman says after Bilkhairiya walks away.
The young candidate herself is optimistic about her party's chances
"We have a big chance for sure, from talking to people I know. Our mission is convincing, they hear us, they have heard of us before and have a lot of confidence, god willing we will do something with it."
Not all the people she speaks to seem to agree with some inspecting the leaflet handed to them with very little curiosity.
The vote is on Sunday, October 23.
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