Tunisia Set to Announce Election Date Wednesday

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Tunisians will learn Wednesday whether the first elections since their popular uprising toppled longtime ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked off the Arab Spring will be held as promised on July 24.

The interim government faces objections over the date from the independent electoral commission, which said truly credible polls could not be organized in such a short time and called for a postponement to October 16.

The election of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution will be the country's first step in overhauling a system that saw Ben Ali re-elected last October with more than 90 percent of the vote as his three opponents cried foul.

Government spokesman Taib Baccouche, speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, said the definitive date would be announced Wednesday.

Election commission Chief Kamel Jendoubi last week did not rule out fixing a compromise date possibly in September.

Most political parties want the vote in July as a way of ensuring stability.

The elections will be the first democratic exercise in the North African country since the fall in January of Ben Ali, who ruled the country virtually unchallenged for 23 years.

The Islamist Movement Ennahda, violently suppressed in the Ben Ali era, said the July 24 date -- promised back in March -- was crucial because the country has been run informally and without legitimate institutions for nearly six months.

But Ennahda, which some experts suggest has 20 percent popular support, said it could consider a September vote.

Reactions from other camps were mixed, with the Progressive Democratic Party suggesting a September vote might conflict with Ramadan.

Communist party spokesman Hamma Hammani voiced preference for October because "the people want to be well prepared for the vote."

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