tunisia - Reuters - October 1 2011
A man puts up an electoral campaign poster of Islamist party Ennahda in Tunis, October 1, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Tunisia's cities were decorated with posters for hundreds of candidates from scores of new parties when campaigning began on Saturday for what is billed as the first free election in the country's history.

Nine months after an uprising that deposed former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the Arab Spring, Tunisians elect politicians on October 23 to an assembly that will rewrite the country's constitution.

Parties running candidates have agreed the assembly will sit for one year.

An independent committee set up by Tunisia's caretaker government to oversee the poll said nearly 11,000 candidates would contest 218 seats in the assembly.

With some 110 parties taking part, many Tunisians say they are worried about how to make their choice after decades of widely criticized polls won by Ben Ali.

“Not easy”

"There are many colors, there are multiple programs and slogans," Khaled Okbi told Reuters as he read party policies posted on the wall of a school in the capital Tunis.

"We still have enough time to choose, although it does not seem easy."

Some opposition parties say they fear the interim government may renege on its promise to lead Tunisia toward democracy and violent protests have erupted over delays in holding the poll.

"Ten thousand extra policemen will join the police in Tunisia to contribute to the success of the elections," interior ministry spokesman, Hichem Meddeb, told Reuters.

Political analysts expect Ennahda, an Islamic party, to win the most seats in the assembly. The Progressive Democratic Party and the Congress for the Republic are also expected to poll strongly.

Ennahda leader Rached Gannouchi began campaigning on Saturday with a huge rally in the town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the uprising that eventually overthrew Ben Ali.

"I am ready for these elections, which must succeed," Gannouchi told Reuters. "Because failure would be catastrophic to Tunisia and its neighbors in Europe as well."

Coinciding with the start of the election campaign, a conference of Arab bloggers was scheduled to begin in Tunisia on Monday.

“During the Arab revolutions, activists learned from each other, and Arab governments also learned from each other – new methods of suppression and intimidation,” read the website of the bloggers conference. The avowed purpose of the meeting, it said, was for Arab bloggers to “create coalitions amongst themselves to face new realities and future challenges.”