24 October 2012

Tunisia: Civilians Mark Election Anniversary

Tunis — Across the country, people marched to remind politicians of the promises made a year ago.

Tunisians on Tuesday (October 23rd) marked the one-year anniversary of their first democratic election with protests across the country.

People marched in Tunis, Monastir, Nabeul, Sidi Bouzid, El Kef, Sfax and other areas to voice dissatisfaction over the deepening political rifts and the ailing economy.

Meanwhile, politicians commemorated the historic vote that set the stage for political transformations across the Arab world. They pleaded for unity, moderation and patience.

"We are all the children of this people," Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said at the Constituent Assembly session to celebrate the anniversary. "It must be clear to all that we can't build anything on hatred and doubts. National unity is our main gain that we must preserve using all our means. We can quarrel, if necessary, but in the framework of national unity."

He called for "rejecting the division of Tunisians into good and evil, corrupters and reformers, revolutionaries and reactionaries, secularists and Islamists, modernists and salafists".

"The interests of the country require political forces at this critical juncture to stop media exchanges," the interim president said.

In his turn, Constituent Assembly (ANC) Chairman Mustapha Ben Jaafar said in the opening speech that "since its establishment, the Constituent Assembly has been working to observe its obligations to the Tunisian people".

"The specialised committee has finished writing the draft law of the independent electoral commission," he said, voicing optimism about "the ability of Tunisia's political forces to finally overcome all differences".

Ennahda representative Habib Khedr described October 23rd as a celebration of "legitimacy".

Meanwhile, the Democratic Opposition bloc boycotted the ANC extraordinary session.

"We can't celebrate while the revolution hasn't realised any of its goals," bloc representative Mahmoud Baroudi told Magharebia. "We can't celebrate while Tunisia witnessed the fall of the first political martyr."

"A year has passed since the election and important files to ensure democratic transition in Tunisia, such as corruption and martyrs, haven't been opened," Republican Party (Al Joumhouri) spokesman Issam Chebbi said. "The troika must give in to the principle of dialogue without any exclusion to get out of this impasse. We need a clear roadmap to give hopes to Tunisians."

Disappointment was manifest among Tunisian demonstrators. Some had conflicting sentiments about the anniversary.

"October 23rd is an historic day because the people lived the joy of democracy," protestor Mohamed Ali Tahri told Magharebia. "However, it's also a black day in Tunisia's history because people elected the Islamists. We shouldn't repeat the mistake with a bigger mistake, as those people are just a historical mistake in Tunisia's history."

Many complained about what they described as lack of progress since the ruling troika took over, especially on the socio-economic front.

"A whole year has passed and unemployment rates in the country haven't dropped," Ayoub Mezgheni, an unemployed man, said. "Rather, things have become worse, especially in internal areas."

"I know that the current government doesn't have a magic wand to find solutions, but it should give priority to young people's problems rather than get involved in political outbidding that we don't need," Mezgheni added.

In his turn, unionist Mohamed Ben El-Haj lamented the stalled political process.

"Today, the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly came to an end," he said. "It failed to run the interim stage and to perform the mission it was elected for, i.e. writing a constitution."

A rival demonstration took place outside the ANC headquarters, with government supporters calling for continuation of the ANC work.

"The government and the Constituent Assembly today need some extra time to finish the constitution," Dalila Louati said. "Tunisia is going through a critical stage now and the withdrawal of the Constituent Assembly or the government would expose the country to numerous risks. Therefore, let's leave them to work to realise the goals of revolution and lead the country to the shore of safety."

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