|Congress of the Republic||30|
|Progressive Democratic Party||17|
|Democratic Modernist Pole||5|
|Tunisian Workers' Communist Party||3|
|Independents and smaller parties||23|
Following the toppling of long-term Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali, the Tunisian people turned to the polls on October 23 to elect an interim Parliamentary assembly, comprising 217 seats that will draft a new constitution and appoint an interim President.
The election marked the start of a new democracy for the Arab country, which was the first to spark off the “Arab spring” revolution, followed closely by Egypt and Libya. The election was also seen as a benchmark for the region and was closely watched by the likes of Libya and Egypt, as they move into a postrevolution reconstruction phase. In addition, the election also provided a litmus test for democracy in a region that has been dominated by autocratic rulers.
The previously banned Ennahda party, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, won the election with 90 of the 217 seats available, while the Congress for the Republic came in second with 30 seats. Ennahda, despite the victory, was not able to secure an outright majority and will have to enter into coalitions with smaller parties when drafting the new constitution, forming an interim government and scheduling new elections, probably in 2013.
The Tunisian electoral system sees the election of members of the constituent assembly, through a system of proportional representation systems with various multimember districts based on thresholds set as the quotient of votes cast, divided by the seats contested. Party lists are required to alternate between female and male candidates.
Representation comprises 199 members in the assembly representing districts located within the country, while 18 members represent districts abroad. Almost one-million Tunisians do not reside in the country, with at least 500 000 located in France.
Polling for these expatriates took place in 80 countries including France, Italy, Germany, North America and other Arab States.
Islamist vs Secularist
Ennahda lies at the moderate and liberal end of the spectrum of Islamist parties in the region. Ghannouchi has modelled the party on the Turkish style of governance implemented by the moderate Islamic Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.
The secularists, however, argue that Ennahda will try to impose a conservative Islamic code on society, which he has subsequently denied, saying that no restrictions will be placed on foreign tourists and insisting that there will be no form of gender discrimination.
Following the peaceful polling and the release of preliminary results, violence broke out in the town of Sidi Bouzid, which happens to be the birthplace of where the revolution broke out when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in protest against police brutality and a lack of economic opportunity.
The violence erupted after supporters of the secularist Popular List party set fire to the mayor’s offices and burnt tyres in the streets in protest over the party’s electoral seats being cancelled, following campaign finance violations. The Popular List was placed fourth in the election, according to preliminary results, and is a popular party in Sidi Bouzid. The violence was confined to Party List supporters, as other secularist parties had already accepted defeat.
The international community has broadly welcomed and congratulated Tunisia’s move towards democracy and have acknowledged the process as being free and fair.
US President Barack Obama lauded the electoral process and congratulated the Tunisian people for exercising their democratic right, labelling it a new dawn not just for Tunisia, but also for the Arab world. The European Union echoed Obama’s sentiments and promised to support the incoming elected authorities.
After the ousting of Ben-Ali, Tunisia has taken a significant step on the path towards democracy by participating in an election that has generally been considered free and fair. The journey, however, is not over as the newly elected constituent assembly embarks on the difficult task of drafting a new constitution and appointing an interim government.
The fact that no single party achieved an outright majority of Parliamentary seats means there will have to be cooperation and agreement among different parties. Facilitating party cooperation and meeting each of their interests will prove a challenging task. Although the Assembly is dominated by moderate Islamists, there is still bound to be disagreement on several issues that will dictate the nature of Tunisia’s new constitution.
The world’s eyes will be on Tunisia to see whether it can fully recover from Ben-Ali’s autocratic regime and fully set its course for a democratic transition. Countries like Egypt and Libya will be particularly interested in the events that unfold in the upcoming months in Tunisia. The international community has largely applauded the will and resolve of the Tunisian people, in what has been a trying year for the North African State.
The next step is to draft a constitution, which is expected to reconcile Islamic religious principles with a Western style of democracy and, thereafter, make provision for general elections, most likely in early 2013.
Al Jazeera. Tunisia poll results show Ennahda lead (October 26, 2011).
Al Jazeera. Tunisia: An election full of surprises (October 24, 2011).
BBC News. Tunisia counts votes in historic free election (October 24, 2011).
BBC News. Tunisia election. Partial results suggest Ennahda win (October 25, 2011).
News24. Tunisians await election results (October 24, 2011).
Polity. Tunisian Islamist election win marred by clashes (October 28, 2011).
The New York Times. Tunisians vote in a milestone of Arab change (October 23, 2011).
The New York Times. Tunisia liberals see a vote for change, not religion (October 25, 2011).
Tunisia Live. Tunisian election results tables (October 24, 2011).
The Guardian. Yet again, Tunisia can show Arab nations the way forward (October 24, 2011).
The Middle East channel. The day after Tunisia’s elections (October 25, 2011).