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Excitement in the run up to the Elections in Tunisia

It is interesting to follow the developments in Tunisia for different reasons. Those who followed the events of the revolution earlier this year, might have lost sight of the sequel, or have forgotten about it at all.

However, the country is stirring and the Tunisian people have landed into a crucial phase of their process of democratization, which was set in course shortly after the regime change in January. A successful course of the elections will undoubtedly have a positive fall-out for the entire Arab region. An eventual failure, on its turn, will be a blow for the region’s democracy ambitions.

Up to the elections of 23rd October, I will report weekly about the latest developments in Tunisia. In my contributions, I will also highlight the role of the EU. As of 2009, de new set-up European External Action Service, the EEAS, is in charge as the central coordinator and executor of all the Union’s foreign policy. For the case of Tunisia, the EU Delegation in Tunis and its staff are responsible for carrying out EU policy. Where needed, I will deliver clear background information about the EEAS and about the EU foreign policy.

‘Situation Incomprehensible’

To start, an update about the situation in Tunisia. Few weeks after the fall of the regime, heated political discussions ended with the designation of a so-called “high authority for the protection of the revolution”, existing of 155 representatives of the different regions, unions, political parties and lawyers, having as their primal task to prepare elections.

Indeed, on October 23rd, the Tunisian people will cast their votes to elect a counsel of wise, who will on their turn be responsible for drafting a new constitution and the call for parliament and presidential elections.

This is an important step to take for the country. First of all, because for many these elections will be the first free elections ever since. Second, the elected members of the Assemblee Constituante, “the constitutional counsel”, will decide upon the constitutional and societal shape of the new Tunisia. The daily debate is often intense. Every ministerial speech, every political happening is broadly measured in all media and the papers are full of opinions. Papers and television are the most important sources of information for most of the elderly people. Facebook on its turn fancies a huge popularity among the youth, being their number one source of receiving and sharing information.

It has now been 8 months ago that Tunisia ousted its president, and a slight politics fatigue can be witnessed. A recent opinion poll reveals that only 58% of interviewees follow the day-to-day political news, in comparison to 80% earlier this year, interest seems to decline. As a matter of fact, people are not used to receiving so much information about national deficits, let alone about how to deal with them. Politics, security and the national economy has been a task of the president and a select few for decades. Now, people are being confronted with national and local questions concerning the economy and the political feature, and for the moment, solutions have stayed out. From the same opinion poll, I can tell that over half of the questioned people do not know whether the country is moving in the wrong or right directions en people indicate that the situation is completely vague, une situation incomprehensible.

Maintaining the momentum…

Almost 4 million Tunisians, half of those entitled to vote, responded to a call to register themselves at local government offices. Because registration was only necessary for those who doubted their correct listing in the governmental offices, a vote-turnout of about 70-80% is expected at the October elections. However, only one third of the people know who it will cast its vote for. Of those who do know who to vote for, half isn’t sure about its decision yet. This incertitude is understandable: over 100 political parties have been formed since the opening up of the political arena! More of a concern is the fact that 33% of interrogated indicated not to have a clue what the drafting of a new constitution implies.

As a concluding remark, I can say that the past few weeks and months have been hectic here in Tunisia. People are excited, discussion is omnipresent, elections are on their way. The wish for stability, the abundance of political debate and feeling of incertitude can cause emotions to rise. It is of importance to maintain the momentum, created shortly after the upheaval, and existing of enthusiasm and commitment to the process of democratization, shared by all sections of the population.

So far my first contribution from Tunis. In the next piece, I will elucidate the relations between the EU and Tunisia and explain the role of the former in the forthcoming elections. To raise a corner of the veil, the EU has an Electoral Assistance Team in situ, is supporting the reform of national and local media, professionalizes political parties and trains election observers.

Also next week, a thorough look at the origins of EU presence in Tunisia. Why does the EU maintain so close ties with Tunisia and why do we care at all about ‘their’ course to democracy? What does it need its physical presence for, with all the member states having embassies in Tunis? Questions, answers and debate in the next item!

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