Tunisia's ruling party won a crushing victory in weekend municipal elections, just before the government begins talks to deepen ties with the European Union in which its record on democracy will be under the spotlight.
Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem said on Monday that the governing Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) won 90.3 percent of 4,600 local council seats in the north African country.
At the last municipal elections in 2005, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's RCD won 93.86 percent.
"These elections enabled the strengthening of multilateralism and local democracy," Kacem told reporters after announcing the results of Sunday's polls in Tunis. Talks with EU officials on forging closer ties start on Tuesday.
Kacem said the vote showed Tunisia could hold elections "without anyone's guidance, without taking lessons from anyone".
The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) boycotted the polls, saying they were unfair as the RDC keeps a tight grip on politics in the country with a population of over 10 million.
Five parties seen as close to the authorities won 9.66 percent of the vote and eight independent candidates won seats on Tunisia's 264 councils, the results showed.
"These elections make no sense -- only a few seats will be offered to the parties that are part of the decor," said PDP Deputy Secretary-General Rachid Kechana ahead of the vote.
Observers said the elections represented a chance for Tunisia to show progress on democracy as it heads into talks with EU officials in Brussels on Tuesday aimed at winning Advanced Partner Status.
The new relationship, already achieved by Tunisia's north African near-neighbour Morocco, could mean lower trade barriers, more access to aid and cooperation in areas ranging from science and technology to energy and education.
Tunisia has one of the Arab world's most open economies and welcomes millions of tourists to its Mediterranean beaches.
But diplomats have said concerns in some EU capitals about Tunisia's record on democracy and human rights may complicate its attempts to deepen ties with the wealthy bloc.
Ben Ali, who is 73, was re-elected to a fifth term in office last year with 89.62 percent of the vote.
ReutersLast Mod: 11 Mayıs 2010, 08:25