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Tunisia postpones first post-revolt municipal polls

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Tunisian Minister for Relations with Constitutional Bodies and Civil Society Mehdi Ben Gharbia (L) and the acting president of the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE). Anouar Ben Hassine (C-L)), attend a meeting in the capital Tunis with all political parties to decide on the date of the next municipal elections on September 18, 2017. FETHI BELAID / AFP

Tunisia has indefinitely postponed its first municipal elections since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the electoral commission said Monday.

The announcement came after a meeting between representatives of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, President Beji Caid Essebsi and party heads.

“The majority of participants in the meeting were in favour of postponing municipal elections,” said interim commission head Anouar Ben Hassen.

The long-delayed polls had been seen as the final stage in Tunisia’s transition to democracy following its 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

The electoral commission had been expected to announce a new date for the polls, likely in March 2018, following several earlier delays.

Following four hours of talks, the parties were unable to agree a date for the long-awaited poll.

“Deferring municipal elections is a bad thing, whatever the objective reasons, but ending this meeting without fixing a new date is even worse,” said Mehdi Ben Gharbia, a minister responsible for relations with constitutional bodies and civil society.

The decision came after a major cabinet reshuffle that saw Ben Ali-era officials return to key posts in a move perceived as strengthening Essebsi’s grip on the executive.

The poll would have seen thousands of officials elected to replace “special delegations” — provisional bodies set up in the aftermath of the uprising.

Many hoped they would have improved management of cities affected by poor services, intermittent garbage collection and poor infrastructure.

The poll had originally been set for December, in consultation with the government, political parties and civil society groups, electoral chief Chafik Sarsar said in April.

But a month later Sarsar announced his resignation, saying he was unable to “work independently and impartially”. His deputy and another member of the commission also quit.

Tunisia has been praised for a relatively democratic transition over the past six years, during which a new constitution was adopted and legislative and presidential polls held in 2014.



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