Tunisian constituent assembly starts work
By Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 23/11/11
Tunisia's constitution-drafting body held its historic first session on Tuesday (November 22nd). The constituent assembly picked Ettakatol leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar as its chairman.
One hundred forty-five members voted for Ben Jaafar, while Maya Jribi secured 68 votes.
"Tunisia now has a shining image in the international arena thanks to the maturity shown by the Tunisian people, political parties and civil society," outgoing Interim President Foued Mebazaa said. He called on the assembly members to "build a state where the values of dignity, justice and freedom flourish".
"Tunisia is on the threshold of a new historic era, impregnated with legitimate hopes, aspirations and expectations," he added.
Mebazaa was replaced with Congress for the Republic (CPR) leader Moncef Marzouki. The long-time opposition figure stressed his intention to live up to the responsibility vested in him.
"This is the happiest day of my life, not to mention a decisive day in the history of our country," Marzouki said after taking the oath at the inaugural session. "I won't change and will always be the son of the people, to serve the people."
In his turn, Ben Jaafar pledged that the tenure of the assembly "would not exceed one year". He also called for strengthening relations with brotherly nations and move toward building a united Maghreb.
Ennahda Secretary-General Hamadi Jebali was named Interim Prime Minister. The three winning political parties reached the accord on Monday.
The opening session was held at the Bardo Palace in Tunis amid intensified security measures.
Hundreds of people, including women's rights activists and relatives of people killed in the revolution, staged a protest outside the building. They demanded gender equality, stressing that the gains secured by Tunisian women will not be sacrificed.
Protesters, led by the Tunisian Association for Democratic Women, called for freedom of expression and stressed the need to craft a democratic constitution that would lay down the foundation of a civil state.
"Those citizens' messages have been heard and they will be taken into consideration during the assembly's works," Marzouki said in response to the demonstration.
In a brief encounter with the media after session, Ben Jaafar expressed hope that the assembly would live up to the responsibilities vested in it and honour the revolution and its martyrs. For her part, Jribi explained that national interest required a viable opposition. "We, both majority and opposition, will build a democracy together," she said.
"The time of hegemony has ended, and that Tunisians are definitely done with the oneness of opinion and candidacy, regardless of the slogans put up in the name of national interest," Jribi said.
"Our party made a clear choice of being an opposition," she added, "and is prepared to shoulder its responsibility so as to make Tunisians' voices heard in the constituent assembly and in civil society, in order to defend their rights and is going to support all trends aimed at serving the interests of the nation."
Chokri Belaid, the spokesman of the Modernist Democratic Pole (PDM), described the inaugural session as "a turning point in the history of Tunisia".
"After fifty years, we finally have a place where we can talk, disagree and argue within a civil framework built on democracy and governed by rules," he said. "That calls for a comprehensive national dialogue which involves all skills, fields, parties, associations, academics, intellect, artists and fighters."
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