Tunisian parties agree on short transition period

AP News
Posted: Sep 15, 2011 4:01 PM
Tunisian parties agree on short transition period

Tunisian political parties agreed Thursday on a roadmap for the country's transition to democracy, planning for parliamentary elections in just over a year _ a relatively short timeline designed to prevent further instability.

The declaration signed by the 12 main parties of the transition commission comes after a heated debate over how quickly the country would move on to writing a constitution and forming a permanent government after the Oct. 25 election of a constitutional assembly.

"This is an historic moment, despite our differences," said Maya Jribi, the chairman of the centrist Progressive Democratic Party, one of the more influential political groups.

Tunisians sparked off the unprecedented wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world by overthrowing their long-serving dictator in January. With a small, largely educated and homogenous population, Tunisia is believed to have the best chance of becoming a prosperous democracy.

Although the country has been wracked by unrest for much of this year, Tunisians have opted to take a gradual road to democracy by first electing a body to write a new constitution to determine their future political system.

Thursday's declaration gives the new assembly just a year to write the constitution and hold parliamentary elections so as to minimize the chance for further instability, participants said.

Also signing the document was the powerful Islamist Ennahda Party, which had previously left the transition commission after quarreling with the other parties. In a recent poll at least 20 percent of Tunisians said they would vote for Ennahda, double amount for the next most popular party, the PDP.

The document also laid down a code of conduct for competitors vying for a seat on the constitutional assembly, including strict neutrality for places of worship, educational institutions and government offices during campaigns.

According to the agreement, once the constitutional assembly elects a new president the current transitional government must step down.

"The agreement is the only way forward as the country goes through this difficult transition period," said Yadh Ben Achour, the chairman of the transition commission.

Tunisia's interim prime minister Caid Essebsi warned on Sept. 6 that the country was in a "crisis" and bans on protests in the its emergency law would be more strictly enforced to quell the wave of unrest in the country.