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Campaign Winds Down in Tunisia's First-Ever Democratic Elections

Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement attend a closing campaign rally in Tunis, Tunisia, October 21, 2011.
Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement attend a closing campaign rally in Tunis, Tunisia, October 21, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

Ten months after kicking out longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sparking a wider Arab revolt, the North African country of Tunisia wrapped up its last day of campaigning for its first-ever democratic elections.

It's been a busy day for Boutheina Ferchiou. She's a law professor in Tunis. But Friday, Ferchiou was out on the main Habib Bourguiba artery, handing out flyers for her Modern Democratic Poll coalition party.

Ferchiou said she hopes that Tunisians will vote their conscience - and toward the progressiveness and modernity she says her party embraces.

Ferchiou is one of thousands of candidates vying for a seat on Tunisia's new Constituent Assembly. The body will be tasked to draw up a new constitution and chart a political future after decades of dictatorship. More than 100 parties are competing in the first democratic election here since independence.

Polls show many Tunisians are undecided about which one to vote for. But political blogger Kerim Bouzouita said that's democracy at work.

"We have to read this hesitation like a good sign. Because there is a good political offer. And the situation is not so hard because we have two big tendencies - the conservators and the modernists, or the pragmatists," said Bouzouita.

The party scoring the strongest in all the polls is the moderate, Islamist Ennadha. Hundreds turned out for a final rally outside Tunis on Friday, the last day of campaigning before Sunday's vote.

Graduate student Safa Wouerzhi, 20, is a Ennadha supporter. Wouerzhi said she's for Ennahdha because her parents support the party and it's a great choice. She believes religion should play a role in political life - because Tunisia is an Arabic and Muslim country.

Polls open at 7 a.m. local time on Sunday and close 12 hours later. Election officials say they hope to announce preliminary results later the same day.

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