Tunisia's first election since the downfall of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali may be delayed from July 24 to October 16, Kamel Jandoubi, president of the High Authority for the Elections, told a meeting of political parties on May 26.
But days later, the interim government reaffirmed its commitment to the July 24 elections for a constituent assembly.
Moez Sinaoui, spokesperson for the interim prime minister Beji Caid el Sebsi , told state news agency TAP on May 29 that the original date “is a roadmap and a position of principle to prepare this important political event”.
At the same time, strikes, occupations and protests continue to rock the interim government.
Opposition parties, including the moderate islamist party Ennahda, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and the centre-left Congress for the Republic (CPR), have all stated their opposition to the delay.
Ennahda has withdrawn from the Tunisian High Council for Political Reforms and the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution until an election date is certain.
Technical reasons were cited as the reason for delays by the High Authority for the Elections, but many suspect it has more to do with maneuvers among the main parties.
An early election date would benefit parties such as the PDP, which has operated as parliamentary opposition under Ben Ali since 1988.
Ennahda, in particular, is projected to take a large share of the vote in an early poll. They were banned under Ben Ali, but a May 5-11 poll showed them taking 30% of the vote, the largest of any party.
Comments by the former interior minister Farhat Rajhi that a win by Ennadha would result in the elites of Ben Ali's regime launching a coup triggered a fresh wave of protests in early May. They were brutally supressed.
AFP reported on May 23 that Laraydh Ali, a spokesperson for Ennahda, said: “We hold the July 24 election for the Constituent Assembly and we refuse it to be postponed.”
The CPR also argued against the delay. “The public is fast losing confidence in the parties and people are taking things into their own hands, after what has been a true popular revolution,” CPR leader Moncef Marzouki in an interview with the Financial Times.
“Our party is not really ready for this election, but only an election can produce a government seen to have legitimacy.”
However, The Left Worker's League (LGO) and Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT) have supported the delay, because it will enable the left more time to organise.
The interim government has also been ramping up its campaign against radical Islamists. On May 15, TAP said two men suspected of being members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were arrested carrying explosive belts and bombs near the Libyan border.
On May 18, three were killed in a gun battle with suspected AQIM militants in Rouhia.