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TUNIS: Tunisian lawmakers voted yesterday to have a draft constitution ready by the end of April and hold elections by December at the latest, steps meant to rescue a faltering democratic transition in the country that launched the Arab Spring.
The agreed timeline could ease tensions festering since the February 6 assassination by suspected radicals of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, and encourage local and foreign investors needed to hoist Tunisia out of economic crisis.
Mustafa Ben Jaafar, speaker of the constituent assembly, said the draft should be ready on April 27 — with July 8 as a final, fallback deadline if needed — with the next election to follow between October 15 and December 15.
Deputies voted 81-21 in favour of the timeline. An as-yet unformed supreme electoral commission will have the final word on the date for Tunisians to go to the polls.
“Agreement on these (dates) is an important message to both inside and outside the country ... that we are on the verge of completing the last stages of the democratic transition and going on to the stage of democratic stability,” Moufdi Mssidi, Ben Jaafar’s spokesman, told Reuters.
Feuding Islamist and secular politicians have missed previous deadlines to draw up a democratic constitution and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Belaid’s murder ignited the worst violence in Tunisia since the January 2011 fall of autocratic President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali to a mass uprising that inspired revolts against repressive leaders across the Arab world.
The North African state’s new Islamist-led government won a confidence vote on Wednesday as the death of an unemployed man who set himself on fire in despair over economic hardships underscored the depth of popular discontent. The government was broadened to include non-party independents in major cabinet posts to defuse outrage over Belaid’s assassination.
Despite freedom of expression and political pluralism won in 2011, the high unemployment, inflation and perceptions of out-of-touch, corrupt government that fuelled the anti-Ben Ali revolt remain unresolved and often kindle further unrest.
Tunisia’s support for the Syrian revolution is “moral” and not military, the head of the ruling Islamist party said yesterday, despite signs that radical imams are encouraging young Tunisians to fight.“Our support for the Syrian resistance is moral and political, not military,” Rached Ghannouchi told a news conference in Tunis, while condemning “the repression carried out against the Syrian people.”
The influential Islamist leaderdenied any implication in sending young Tunisians to join rebels in Syria, saying his party “does not have fighting forces.”
“We have nothing to do with the departure of these young people for Syria,” he said.
Ghannouchi also insisted that his group was opposed to female circumcision, after one of its MPs caused a storm by reportedly saying the operation was “aesthetic.”
“We do not approve of female circumcision, a practice supported neither by Ennahda nor by religion, and which is not a part of our culture,” Rached Ghannouchi told a news conference in Tunis.
“Whoever approves of female circumcision cannot remain within our ranks,” he added.
Ennahda MP Habib Ellouze sparked outrage in the north African country with comments he reportedly made last week in an interview published in an Arabic newspaper.
“There are more circumcisions but it is not true that circumcision removes the pleasure for women. It is the West that has exaggerated the issue. Circumcision is an aesthetic surgery for women,” he reportedly said. But Ellouze on Monday accused the newspaper of distorting his quotes, saying the journalist “attributed remarks to me that I have not said.”