Les Elections en Tunisie: Un petit pas pour le pays, mais un bond de géant pour le monde arabe/musulman
TUNISIA: One small step for Tunisia, one giant leap for the Arab/Muslim world
Tunisians went to the polls this last Sunday, and voted massively in the first free and fair democratic election in the history of the country. The participation in the election of a constituent assembly was beyond everyone’s expectation. In a country of about 10.6 million inhabitants and 4.5 million registered voters, the turnout flirted with the high 80%, low 90%. Approximately, 8 out of 10 registered voters cast a ballot on Sunday. This tendency was observed in almost every region and in every socio-economic class. In spite of this large number of voters, there were no major incidents worth mentioning, and the campaign was declared clean, fair and lively by the 7472 election observers (among them 533 foreigners and 15 international organizations). Briefly stated, Tunisia’s first democratic election was a stunning success.
The early results also confirm the tendencies that we observed during the campaign. The moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, is positioned to win a little more than 40% of the seats in the constituent assembly, followed by the Congress for the Republic Party (CPR) and The Justice and Development Party (JDP) with about 15% of the seats respectively, and Ettakatol Party in the fourth position with about 7% of the seats (for more results, check the electoral commission website, and the website of Tunis-etudes).
These are, of course, early results, and the electoral commission has not yet validated them since the tallying of all the votes has not finished yet.
However, even with these partial results, what do we usually look for? Well, there are a few things: 1) early political, cultural and social-economic cleavages; 2) assessment of the political power of each political formation; and 3) the beginning of the bargaining process between the different parties, which would set a powerful example for the next election in Egypt and all the Arab/Muslim world.
When we observe the electoral map and crosscheck it with the partial results, we can deduct (though this is a very early deduction) that Ennahda party won a plurality of the votes in urban and rural centers. It is a party whose political base is widespread across the Tunisian territory. The same observation could be made about the CPR, though it is not as strongly implanted in the rural areas as in the urban ones. As for the Ettakatol and JDP, these are mainly urban parties. It is worth mentioning that these are early partial results and it is likely that the electoral map could evolve and show another pattern when tallying is finished.
The second observation is that a somehow clear political cleavage seems to be taking shape. On one side of the ideological political spectrum, we have a moderate Islamist party, and on the other we have two center-left parties (Ettakatol and CPR). The development of this cleavage is very interesting. It is almost the same ideological makeup that was approximately observed in the 1992 Algerian’s legislative elections. Would this cleavage last and endure? Nobody can now for sure affirm that. However, what we can say now is because no political party has obtained a majority of the seats in the constituents assembly, Ennahda will have to bargain and negotiate with CPR and Ettakatol to form a coalition government. Of course, Ennahda could always seek to form a coalition government with smaller political formations (promising them large governmental portfolios for example), which would be a harbinger of a costly and destabilizing political struggle between the Islamists and everyone else. However, we can rest assured that that scenario will not happen. How do we know that? Well, already the leaders of the Ennahda party have strongly signaled that they would favor a coalition government with the center-left parties citing Marzouki’s party, and the leftwing secularist Ettakatol party as possible coalition partners. Moreover, Abdelhamid Jlazzi, Ennahda campaign manager and spokesman, aiming at reassuring Tunisians and foreign observers, declared to Reuters News that “there will be no rupture. There will be continuity because we came to power via democracy, not through tanks… We suffered from dictatorship and repression and now is an historic opportunity to savor the taste of freedom and democracy.” What he meant to say is, “don’t panic. Don’t freak out. We are not going to force women to wear al-hijab and men to pray or ban alcohol tomorrow morning.” Ennahda is signaling that they will not be a drastically reshaping of the Tunisian social fabric.
In sum, it looks like Tunisia is headed for a broad coalition government composed of the Islamists and center-left parties. The presence of center-left parties would have a moderating effect on the already moderate Islamist party. It would also set an example for the rest of the Arab world (Egypt and probably Libya) on how the post-electoral bargaining game is necessary and beneficial for everyone if it is played right. Moreover, during the campaign, the leaders of Ennahda stated, several times, that the Turkish model is the most appropriate model for Tunisia—i.e., the Ennahda would probably be a pro-market economy party with a light touch of Islamic conservatism. It is unlikely that the Ennahda would enforce a morality code or use a Shar’ia as the main source of law. From what we have seen during the campaign and the multiple declarations post-election, the Ennahda is a vote-maximizing party, which seeks to reinforce and enlarge its political base. To do that, the Islamists would probably focus on economic prosperity first and foremost. Of course, every political strategy has its negative side—i.e., if Ennahda focuses mostly on economic issues and downplays morality issues, it would turnoff its hardcore constituents. This is the calculus that the Ennahda seems to favor since it seems to be moving to occupy the middle of the political spectrum, to capture more voters, and position itself for a bigger win in the next election.
Furthermore, the leaders of Ennahda are not stupid. They know very well that leading the country after a revolution is a risky business. The likelihood of failure—economic failure with high inflation and anemic growth, social unrest, shifting coalition and allegiances, electoral volatility, huge and unrealistic expectations, and so forth—is extremely high and very real. Thus, the leaders of Ennahda purposely chose to share the likelihood of failure with the second and third winner of the election, which would minimize a future electoral backlash.
Finally, it is very important for the Arab/Muslim world that Tunisia’s first election succeeds. Tunisia was the first Arab country to topple its autocrat and show the way to salvation to the rest of the Arabs/Muslims. Everyone else in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and many other countries of the region is carefully observing how Tunisia is negotiating this transition. Don’t get me wrong, transitions are extremely hard and failure is more likely than success. But Tunisia cannot fail and must succeed for the sake of every Arab/Muslim. The Tunisian example of how Ennhada behaves itself, engages in post-electoral bargaining with other political parties, sets its political priorities, and leads and governs collectively would surely be followed and very influential in Egypt and in all Arab/Muslim countries. To borrow from Neil Armstrong, what Tunisia did this last Sunday was to take one small step for itself, but one giant leap for the Arab/Muslim world.