Backgrounder: Basic facts about Tunisian Constituent Assembly election   2011-10-23 06:31:43 FeedbackPrintRSS

TUNIS, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- Tunisians go to the polls Sunday to elect members of a constituent assembly which will be tasked with drafting a new constitution and charting Tunisia's transitional period. The election is the first in the country after the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year.

Here are some background and basic facts about the election:

After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011, Tunisia's interim government announced on March 3 that an election for a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) would be held on July 24.

Later, on the grounds that the independent electoral body needed more time to prepare electoral lists and renew over 400,000 old identity cards, Chairman of the Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (IHAE) Kamel Jendoubi insisted on a delay to October. Despite some opposition, the interim government on June 8 postponed the election to Oct. 23. Although major political parties of Tunisia expressed concerns over the delay, they eventually agreed upon it, including the major Islamic Ennahda ( Renaissance) party which had fiercely opposed the postponement.

Voters both at home and abroad are supposed to elect 217 representatives to the NCA, among whom 199 are in Tunisia and 18 representing Tunisian expatriates in Europe and North America.

Then, the 217-member body will rewrite the constitution and chart the country's transition after the toppling of its veteran leader. It will also have the authority to either appoint a new government or extend the current one's term until general elections.

According to a May 20 decree by interim President Fouad Mebazaa, the NCA will first meet two days after election results are announced and will have one year to draft a new constitution. The NCA, however, will be sovereign and might set its own timetable for constitution drafting.

As the supreme law of the Tunisian Republic, the Constitution is the framework for the organization of the Tunisian government and for the relationship of the federal government with the governorates, citizens and all people within Tunisia.

The current constitution was adopted on June 1, 1959, under Tunisia's first President Habib Bourguiba, and later amended several times to allow Ben Ali to run for re-elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009.

The campaign for this year's NCA election officially started on Oct. 1. As of June, over 80 political parties have been registered, of which the two best known parties are the Islamist Ennahda party led by Muslim scholar Rachid Ghannouchi, who stayed in exile for 22 years in London after Ben Ali banned the party and jailed thousands of its followers, and the secular Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), a social-democratic party with central-left political claims.

Senior members of the disbanded former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), will be banned from standing in the election if they were in politics within the last 10 years.

More than 11,000 candidates from 27 domestic constituencies and 474 candidates from six out-of-country constituencies are running in this election.

According to figures released by the IHAE, the number of voters totals 4.43 million, including 4.1 million registered voters in Tunisia and some 330,000 registered voters out of 652,000 Tunisian expatriates.

The electoral body has set up about 7,000 polling stations in Tunisia and 479 abroad with a staff of 50,000. They open at 07:00 (0600 GMT) and close at 19:00. While Tunisians at home cast ballots on Oct. 23, those living abroad vote on Oct. 20-22. Provisional results will be released late Sunday, or Monday, according to election officials.

In order to prevent voters from casting ballots in more than one polling station, the electoral body requires each voter to dip one of his or her indexes in the indelible blue ink after voting. Anyone who refuses to follow the rule will be automatically barred from voting.

About 5,000 observers accredited by the electoral body, including over 500 foreign observers, will monitor the election.

Editor: yan
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