Tunisian party fears violence if election delayed

Mon Jun 6, 2011 6:53pm GMT
 

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's main Islamist party said on Monday delays to a scheduled election date or changes to other plans for a new political order could "drag the country into a spiral of violence".

The country that served as springboard for a wave of Arab citizen revolts had been due to hold its first ballot since the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on July 24. But electoral monitors postponed it to October 16, citing technical hold-ups.

Larger opposition parties are demanding an early poll, saying they fear the interim government may renege on its promise to lead Tunisia towards democracy.

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, said his party had heard of possible plans to delay or cancel the election for an assembly that would draw up a constitution.

"We have real misgivings that those who have decided to postpone the date of the first election can do it for a second time," Ghannouchi told reporters at an event to mark the 30th anniversary of his party.

"Now we hear talk about abandoning the constituent assembly elections ... we believe it is possible to go ahead (and) prepare for other options," he said.

Some politicians have recently proposed replacing the assembly election with parliamentary and presidential elections.

Ghannouchi, who had been in exile for 20 years before Ben Ali's fall, warned that the postponement or cancellation of such elections "may drag the country into a spiral of violence"

A widely-respected religious scholar, Ghannouchi has long preached that Islam is compatible with modernity and multi-party democracy. He compares Ennahda with Turkey's moderate ruling AK Party, rather than Egypt's harder line Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet Ghannouchi's return from exile has alarmed some Tunisians who want to keep Islam separate from the state.

Ghannouchi said Ennahda believed in individual freedoms, in women's rights and their equality with men.

<p>A Tunisian student from El Kef smiles next to a Tunisian flag in Tunis February 9, 2011, during a demonstration against two civilians who were shot and killed last week in El Kef. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi</p>
 
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