Last Updated: Sun Sep 25, 2011 18:20 pm (KSA) 15:20 pm (GMT)

Tunisia’s democratic party hopes for poll win over Islamists

Ahmed Najib Chebbi, who heads the Progressive Democratic Party in Tunisia, is hopeful his party will overtake the Islamists in next month’s elections. (File photo)
Ahmed Najib Chebbi, who heads the Progressive Democratic Party in Tunisia, is hopeful his party will overtake the Islamists in next month’s elections. (File photo)

Tunisia’s Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) founder hopes it will upstage the Islamist Ennahda, which he accused of pushing an “ideological state” agenda, in polls next month.

“Today in Tunisia, there are 100 parties, but two main streams: the Islamists of Ennahda and the democratic stream that includes the PDP and three or four other groupings,” Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, who founded the party in 1983, told AFP in an interview.

“Ennahda is today credited with about 20 percent of the vote. But the field is totally open, more than half of Tunisians are undecided. We have the ambition to overtake the Islamists and become the first party.”

The PDP had long been in opposition to the government of ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and presents itself as a centrist socialist party.

If Ennahda wins, Chebbi added, he would accept the outcome.

“A sovereign people has the right to make a mistake,” he said while excluding, in his personal capacity, any possibility of ruling in a unity government with Ennahda.

Tunisians will vote on October 23, nine months after Ben Ali’s toppling in a popular revolt, for a constituent assembly charged with writing a new constitution for the country ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls.

The PDP is campaigning on job creation in a country with a 19-percent unemployment rate, up from 14 percent last year.

It also promises economic development through massive public investment, support for small and medium enterprises, and a doubling in foreign investment through a relaxation of trade regulations.

The party promises a “fair” tax system through the creation of a single VAT system, and a raise in the minimum salary to 308 dinars a month (about 154 euros, $208) from 286 now.

Chebbi defends a constitutional system whereby a president is elected for a five-year mandate renewable only once, and in which it is impossible to dissolve parliament.

The 67-year-old said he does not exclude the possibility of running for the highest office.

Chebbi said the party has spent “hundreds of thousands of dinars” on publicity campaigns, thanks to contributions from members and supporters.

And he contests the decision of the independent electoral body to ban political advertising until the official start of campaigning on October 1.

“Tunisia needs a political revival and the big parties must be able to make themselves known,” he complained.

The PDP is being investigated with another party, UPL, and private television station Nessma for having contravened the ban on political campaigning which entered into force on September 12.

The October poll will be Tunisia’s first since the toppling Ben Ali in January in an uprising that sparked what has become known as the “Arab Spring”.

The constituent assembly will have 218 seats, nine of them reserved for representatives of Tunisians living abroad.

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