Tunisia’s foreign minister said Tuesday his government is ready for Oct. 23 elections, the first since a rebellion overthrew the country’s longtime dictator sparking an unprecedented wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world.
Mouldi Kefi expressed hope in an Associated Press interview that Tunisians anxious for democracy would put aside their “egocentric” demands, protests and strikes and focus on the best interests of the country.
Tunisians launched the Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic rulers when they toppled President Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali in January - and they will be the first to hold elections where more than 100 parties will be contesting seats in parliament.
The elections “will be really a landmark in the modern history of Tunisia” and will mark a return “almost to our roots,” Kefi said, because one of the first constitutions to be signed in history was in Carthage, about 2,000 years ago, and one of the first constitutions in the Mediterranean region was also signed in the country in 1865.
While there are security concerns, he said, the government is counting on "the wisdom of the Tunisian people" for a smooth political transition not only for the country, but for the international community which will be watching the results of the first elections resulting from this year's Arab Spring.
“It (is) probably going to be a bellwether model for the others if the Tunisian experience takes root and succeeds,” he said.
But Kefi stressed that all revolutions have ups and downs.
“It’s not only honey, butter and milk. It is tears and blood, and we went through difficult times,” he said.
Because strikes and unrest have continued in some parts of Tunisia, the government was forced to reintroduce emergency laws that the ousted regime had relied on, he said.
But Kefi quickly added that the demonstrations and strikes have eased in the past three weeks and “the situation (is) stabilizing and calming down.”
“With the elections approaching ... the Tunisian people are beginning to put Tunisia's broader interests above (their) selfish or narrow interests,” he said.
Kefi said the government has worked hard to prepare for the elections and has done its “homework,” including preparing voter lists, and reaching out to many in the international community, in eastern Europe and elsewhere, for advice.
Campaigning is slated to begin Oct. 1 and there are over 100 parties, he said, but roughly half are smaller parties that have formed coalitions, and about 40 percent of the candidates are independents.
In the wide-ranging interview, Kefi said he was confident that Libya’s National Transitional Council would work hard to ensure that the unrest there would not spill across the border to his country.
“The destinies of the two people ... are interconnected, intertwined,” he said, pointing to strong cultural and geographic ties and to the welcome that Tunisians gave the 650,000 Libyans who crossed the border to flee the fighting.
Kefi expressed hope that the remnants of forces loyal to ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi “"are going to be dealt with” in “a matter of days or weeks.”
“I’m sure that tomorrow, the two peoples are going to work hand in hand for reconstruction of Libya,” he said.
Kefi appealed for international help to help Tunisia deal with a host of challenges.
The first challenge, he said, is to ensure that the Oct. 23 elections “will put Tunisia on the path for democracy to which we all aspire.”
Tunisia also needs to kick-start its economy which, like Egypt’s, was ravaged in the wake of the uprising.
Kefi said that it would be “a very big accomplishment” if economic growth hit 1 percent this year. He said the government was hoping for a recovery to about 3 percent GDP growth in 2012, and about 5 percent the following year.
The third challenge, he said, is finding jobs for 7 thousands unemployed people, including 150,000 with advanced degrees.