* Delay will ensure poll is “free and transparent”- PM
* Opposition parties want earlier date
(adds opposition reaction, details)
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, June 8 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s election will be delayed until October 23, a week later than the date suggested by electoral officials, to ensure it can be “free and transparent”, Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi said on Wednesday.
The date was originally set for July 24, but poll officials said that was impractical because of technical hitches such as nearly 400,000 Tunisians lacking voter cards.
They had suggested Oct. 16 as a new date, but timing of the vote has been highly sensitive, and protesters took to the streets earlier this year at suggestions of a delay.
Large opposition parties have demanded an earlier poll, saying they fear the government may renege on its promise to lead Tunisia towards democracy after the overthrow of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali this year.
“All things considered, we decided to hold the elections on October 23,” Sebsi told reporters after meeting government officials in the capital of the North African country.
“The most important thing is the transparency of the elections. There are parties who disagreed with this ... but our mission is to hold elections that are free and transparent. We must protect the good name of the revolution.”
In a sign the main opposition party Ennhada may be softening its stance, spokesman Ali Larayd said his moderate Islamist party would respect the date.
“We fear a delay in the elections could lead to violence and disorder,” he said. “But if all the different parties are agreed on this date, then we shall respect it.”
The vote will pick an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, a clean break with the 23-year autocratic rule of Ben Ali, who was toppled by protests on January 14.
Tunisia has been struggling to restore stability and rebuild its economy since Ben Ali’s ouster, with tourist numbers sharply down and the World Bank forecasting just 1.5 percent economic growth this year.
Central bank chief Mustapha Kamel Nabli told journalists at the World Economic Forum in Vienna on Wednesday that growth would be much weaker than usual in 2011 and that Tunisia needed an extra $1 billion in funding this year. [ID:nnPRG005009] (Additional Reporting by Martin Santa in Vienna; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)