TUNIS Tunisia's parliament on Wednesday agreed to hold parliamentary elections on Oct. 26 and a presidential poll a month later, in another step to full democracy after the country toppled its autocrat ruler in 2011.
Tunisia's turbulent political transition began after a Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in a popular uprising that inspired the revolutions that became known as the "Arab Spring".
A caretaker government over the last year has seen the North African nation through the adoption of a new constitution lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
Lawmakers agreed the first round of the presidential election would be held on Nov. 23 and a second round, if necessary in the event no-one gets at least 50 percent of the vote, at the end of December.
The polls will be the first since Tunisia adopted the new constitution this year, and the second since Ben Ali fled the country.
Islamist party Ennahda won the first free election after Ben Ali's fall and formed the first government, but the assassination of two secular opposition leaders by Islamist militants triggered a political crisis.
Nonetheless, Tunisia's relatively smooth progress contrasts with the turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which also ousted long-standing leaders three years ago.
Peaceful elections this year could help to restore investor confidence in the slumping Tunisian economy, which is highly dependent on foreign tourism for revenue.
The budget deficit is expected to touch 8 percent by the end of 2014, more than 50 percent higher than under Ben Ali.
Elections commission chief Sarsar said last month that the new electoral law would assure a free and fair vote, with more than 1,000 international observers invited to monitor.
Ennahda is expected to be one of the strongest contenders, along with the main opposition secularist party Nida Tounes.
Nida Tounes will be open to a governing coalition with Ennahda if the parliamentary elections do not produce a clear majority, party chief Beji Caid Essebsi has said.
Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi said Tunisia would have to be governed by consensus over the next five years to anchor its fragile democracy.
For the presidential election, there will likely be fierce competition between several potential candidates - Essebsi, current President Moncef Marzouki, Republican party chief Nejib Chebbi and "Tayar Al Mahaba" party leader Hachmi Hamdi.
(Editing by Patrick Markey)