TUNIS Tunisians should vote without fear of rigging or any violence in the first free election after an uprising earlier this year, the prime minister said on Thursday.
The constituent assembly will write a new constitution before new parliamentary and parliamentary elections, and is also expected to form a new interim government in Tunisia. It follows an uprising that ousted ruler of 23 years Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year.
"No one can doubt the elections, they will be transparent and clean. Rigging will not be possible. The ballot boxes will be open to everyone," Beji Caid Sebsi said in a speech shown on national television.
"There are people who refuse the elections in the first place, considering them apostasy. But the state will not allow violence. The process will be exemplary and we ask people to vote without fear and we reassure them."
His comments referred to concerns that Ben Ali loyalists or Islamist fundamentalists who reject elections in principle could disrupt the vote on Sunday.
Sebsi was also responding to comments from Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, warning of attempts to rig the vote to keep Ennahda down. Ghannouchi said the party, which is widely expected to come out ahead, would back a new street protest movement if that happened.
"We are going to prove to the world that democracy can succeed in the Third World and a Muslim people can succeed. It's important for the Arab and Muslim world to show that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy," Sebsi said.
"The whole world is watching us. We must be proud, we are living an emotional moment that separates two eras."
The Tunisian vote is the first election in Arab countries that have seen protest movements remove autocrats who had long ruled though bloated security apparatus and Western backing.
After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January, Egyptians ousted Hosni Mubarak and Libyan rebels brought down Muammar Gaddafi with help from NATO. Rulers in Syria and Yemen are clinging to power and others have been forced to make concessions to appease restive populations for fear of unrest.
Ghannouchi said earlier that Ennahda would accept the results and was in talks with other parties on creating a post-election alliance including a coalition government.
"We will accept the results of elections whatever they may be. We will congratulate the winner and we hope they would congratulate us if we won," he told Reuters.
"Our choice is a government of national unity because the country needs to continue on the path of consensus... Ennahda is in talks with the (major) parties to create alliances in the constituent assembly."
Ennahda has been keen to allay the fears of secular parties and Tunisia's Western allies over the future of a country that was a pioneer among Arab and Muslim nations in the sphere of women's rights and tried to keep religion out of public life.
But the Islamist party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that is also placed to do well in Egyptian elections later this year, faces competition from several secular parties which also suffered under Ben Ali's rule.