Tunisian Voters Head to the Polls

Posted October 23rd, 2011 at 4:40 am (UTC-5)
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Tunisians began voting Sunday to select a so-called Constituent Assembly, tasked to draw up a new constitution and chart a political roadmap for the North African country.

It will be the first democratic election since Tunisia's independence in 1956. More than 100 parties are running for a place in the 217-seat assembly, a sharp contrast from past elections when voters had not choice but to re-elect the ruling party.

Once the assembly appoints a new government , it will write a new constitution to replace the one used by the government of longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in Tunisia's January revolution, which sparked the wave of revolts across North Africa and the Middle East known as the Arab Spring.

Observers predict the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha will win the biggest share of the vote, but will not capture a majority. It is already in talks to form coalitions.

Polling stations will be guarded by police and soldiers, and thousands of domestic and foreign election observers and journalists will be at hand to witness the vote.

Much is at stake because if the elections produce an effective government, they could emerge as a model for the region.