Teargas and consternation in the Capital’s city centre.
This weekend the capital Tunis witnessed its most serious disturbances since months. A group of 250 Salafists tried to evade the offices of TV-station Nessma, because it had broadcasted a provocative cartoon (Persepolis, a must-see!). Police forces were well informed and managed to prevent any damaging. Nevertheless, it had to confront stirred-up youth, which resulted in a small battle field in a popular neighbourhood of Tunis. Curious about what was going on, I went to see about the events myself. Groups of teenagers had gathered on several hills and were throwing rocks at the police. These, on their turn, fired teargas back, after which calm returned.
Press coverage about these events also reached the European headlines. Juste one week before the elections, not very favourable for the image of Tunisia. In most papers it were the first articles on Tunisia since months. Pitiful because overall the transition period has been fruitful and rather calm. Diplomats working in Tunisia were therefore not so shocked about the events. Even more, they stressed the apt interference of the police and the fact that the events did not escalate was assessed rather positive. Furthermore, the events were not linked to the elections at all. Troubles on E-day remain the biggest fear for many.
EU Election Observers
For the moment there are however no signs that we should expect problems during the voting process. The EU election observation mission (EOM), active in the country for a couple of weeks already, reports about good cooperation with local and national authorities and sufficient progress in the organization of the elections. Nor pecularities have been recorded. On invitation from the Tunisian government, the EU has sent a team of election observers, deployed in the whole country. The EOM’s mission is to observe to what extent the elections are transparent and held in full liberty and honesty. Under lead of the Chief Observer, 54 long term observers are exploring the terrain in the Tunisian voters’ districts. Some days ago, another 66 short term observers arrived, among which 15 members of the European Parliament. They taste some of the public atmosphere, assess the activities of the political parties and see about the progress of the preparations. On E-day itself, all observer travel through their designated district and visit polling stations in systemic way. During their stay of maximum 30 minutes in a station, they observe to what extent the strict rules regarding the voting procedures are complied with. For example, police and military may not enter a polling station, but should actually be present outside of the station, as a voters’ guarantee of safety. Voters may not be accompanied within the voting room nor be influenced in any other way. Furthermore, observers are present during the process of counting the votes, to observe whether everything happens correctly. The observer notes everything on a dedicated form and sends his report to the central EOM unit at the end of the day. In the central unit statistic analyses of the received reports are made and based upon the statistics the final declaration of the EOM mission is formulated and released 48 hours after the elections.
To observe or to inspect?
Today the Deputy Chief observer of the EOM told us that the local authorities cooperate well and deliver helpful information. There is nevertheless also some resistance against the presence of so many foreign observers. The EU is not the only institution to have a mission working in Tunisia. The Carter Foundation has sent its observers to the country as well as the African Union will do and the Arab League. Confusing for the Tunisian who have clear the idea not to need any foreign assistance. Without any help from abroad, they managed to get rid of their dictator and they will organize their elections themselves and make them a success – so is the popular opinion of a part of the people. Some members of the council that is responsible for the preparation of the elections go along with these feelings and is objecting against the foreign missions. Recently, the Deputy Chief was called by worried member, who declared: “you are inspecting and controlling us instead of observing!”
The current interim-government has however all the interest in free and fair elections. The fragile situation of the country, the freshly political freedoms and the fierce debates accompanying these make it necessary to have a clear and uncontestable election result. There should be not a single doubt about the validity of the results, which would seriously slow down the pace of the transition process. De presence of the EOM is therefore essential. The final declaration about the course of the elections will be a correct and independent declaration. Even in the case of local disturbances, the elections will be the next step in the transition towards full fledged democracy and will prove once more that the point of no return has been reached.