Tunisians voted today in the first free election of the Arab Spring, nine months after former President Zinedine el Abidine Ben Ali was ousted following a one-month uprising. The polls opened early Sunday morning with some 4.4 million registered voters picking a 217-member constituent assembly from a field of 11,000 candidates. 80 political parties were represented with some candidates running as independents. Despite worries about voter apathy, hundreds have turned out and stood in long lines for hours to vote, despite high temperatures.
The new multi-party assembly will have the task of writing a new constitution and appointing an interim president and a caretaker government.
Campaigning has been marked by divisions between Islamists and secularists, with the moderate Islamist party Ennahda expected to win the most votes. Concerns have also arisen about tainted money influencing the race, with liberals saying that Ennahda has strongly benefited thanks to financial support from allies in the Persian Gulf. But the liberals have also come under fire, with Islamists and residents of Tunisia’s impoverished interior charging that they have received funding from the business elite of Ben Ali.
Two Arrested Before Elections
The government had deployed 40,000 police and soldiers in the capital and shopkeepers had stockpiled milk and bottled water in the event of unrest. Tunisia has been quiet in the weeks leading up to the election, with isolated protests against Nessma TV.
Two were arrested prior to the elections. Bilal Dhaifallah, an independent Salafist opposed to the elections had participated in protests in the Kasbah against the interim government. Authorities arrested him at his house Saturday night and questioned him over his Facebook profile photo, which shows him in Libya holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
In the Kasbah near government offices, police suppressed a sit-in of young men who, during peaceful protests in January, were shot and are demanding that the government provide basic health care. Tahrir Hammami, a human rights activist, was arrested. One of the hunger strikers is Rachid el-Arbi, who was shot in the upper chest and is now paralyzed from the waist down. His mother, Leila el-Arbi, is not participating in the elections, saying “who would I vote for?” Tarek Dziri was also shot in January and must now use a wheelchair. Still, he came from his town of Fahs to Tunis to join the protest.
Photos taken October 23, 2011, in Tunisia by Bellyglad
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