INTERVIEW - Tunisia reform chief outlines election roadmap

TUNIS Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:29pm IST

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia should hold a presidential election no later than July and will not allow a repeat of the rigged votes held under its ousted president, the head of the state commission on political reform said on Thursday.

A popular uprising last month forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee and inspired protest movements in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world, but nearly a month on there is no timetable for new elections.

Iyadh Ben Achour, a law professor appointed by the caretaker government to help design a new, more democratic system, said his commission had not yet formulated its recommendations and he was only expressing his personal opinion.

But he set out a proposed blueprint that included an overhaul of election laws, the start of campaigning no earlier than 45 days from now, a presidential election no later than mid-July, the dissolution of parliament and the election of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.

"My personal view is that we need to have a presidential election within a maximum of six months," Ben Achour said.

"We have one objective and we will do everything in the service of that objective: the objective is to carry out real elections for the first time in Tunisia."

"That is the fundamental objective. I will not retreat from that one inch. I will resign if ever that objective is forgotten," he told Reuters in an interview.

Under Tunisia's constitution, a presidential election should be held no later than two months from Jan. 14, when Ben Ali was overthrown after 23 years of autocratic rule.

Ben Achour said Tunisia could invoke force majeure to have that date pushed back so that candidates have more time to prepare. "It is not in anybody's interests to have elections within two months," he said.

TRICKS AND RUSES

He said the electoral code and related laws would have to be reformed because they were "full of tricks, full of traps, full of legal ruses" inserted by Ben Ali to sideline any challenge to his rule.

Asked how long it would take before an election date can be fixed and the campaign launched, he said: "To allow us to reform the electoral code I think we will need at least one month and a half."

He said that in his personal opinion the next step after the presidential election should be to dissolve both houses of parliament and hold an election to choose a legislative and constituent assembly.

"The ... last phase is the preparation of a new constitution which will be prepared by this constituent assembly and which will allow Tunisia to move towards a second republic," he said.

Ben Achour said his commission would publish its recommendations on the path ahead only after consulting with all interested groups, including the Islamist Ennahda movement which was banned under Ben Ali.

Ennahda has ruled itself out of the presidential vote, but some people inside Tunisia and elsewhere have expressed concern that with Ben Ali's aggressively secularist rule over, democracy could hand power to Islamists.

"They (Ennahda leaders) have committed themselves to not violate the principles of democracy, to not resort to Sharia (law), to behave as a civil party," Ben Achour said.

"I have had consultations with the people of Ennahda and they will of course be listened to and their position will be taken into consideration and they will have the right to speak the same as everyone, no more and no less."

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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