African Spring activists observe Polish elections
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Activists from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia observed Poland's parliamentary election on Sunday to gain firsthand experience about how to hold the first democratic votes in their countries in decades.
Rania Mbarki, one of five election officials from Tunisia, emerged optimistic about her nation after visiting two polling stations in Warsaw.
"I want our election to show the will of the people, whatever it is," she said, adding that voter registration is high in her region of Tunisia. "This is the birth of a new, democratic process and we are expecting this new arrival with a lot of patience and a lot of optimism."
Tunisia sparked the wider democracy movement now known as the Arab Spring when citizens took to the streets in January to protest their authoritarian government.
Tunisia was the first Arab Spring country to successfully overthrow its longtime leader, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and will also be the first to hold free elections to emerge from the movement, with voters set to cast ballots on Oct. 23.
The Egyptians traveled to the western city of Plock to watch Poland's parliamentary election on Sunday. The Libyans watched the voting in Radom, south of Warsaw.
Poland, which now holds the European Union presidency, invited the visitors to support their efforts in holding their own free and fair elections.
Egypt plans to hold its national ballot on Nov. 28.
No elections are scheduled in Libya yet, where dictator Moammar Gadhafi remains in hiding.
Larbi Chouikha, another Tunisian official, said one of the priorities in Tunisia will be to make sure its vote is truly representative. He said Tunisians will cast ballots in private booths and have a mark left on one of their fingers to make sure no one votes more than once.
"We will use various methods to ensure the principle of freedom, of transparency, of equality of all citizens," said Chouikha.
Former President Lech Walesa — the legendary leader of the Solidarity freedom movement that overthrew Poland's own authoritarian system 22 years ago — visited Tunisia this year to advise on how all social groups can find representation in the democratic process.
In Plock, Abdel Moez, the head of Egypt's Electoral Commission, said Sunday that Poland's voting procedures are similar to those planned in his country, where the registration of candidates will open next week.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects Chouikha to "he" in paragraph 10.)