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A new Tunisia, new realities

Exactly one week after the elections, it is about time to draw up the balance sheet. In Tunisia no election night with incoming results from the different polling station, but an entire week in which results are made public every now and then. The process of counting (and recounting) took a couple of days. Not surprising, considering the lack of experience with organizing democratic elections. Besides, the huge number of eligible parties hindered a swift counting process. The long days of waiting were not easy for the Tunisians. Many were curious about the results and started to become impatient. Throughout the week, more and more voting results of individual polling station trickled in, made public by radio and on social media, leading to fragmented news coverage. Exciting though, because it slowly made clear what the final results would look like.

Islam democrats by far the largest party

After three consecutive postponements the press conference for the announcement of the national results finally took place on Thursday evening. Those who had followed the news coverage were not surprised by the final outcome. The Islamic political party Ennahda, ‘Renaissance’, has become by far the largest party of the country, they received 40% of the votes and thereby 90 seats in the Constituent Assembly. The CPR, Congres Pour la Republique, ended runner up on a fair distance. Ettakatol, under the management of the charismatic Ben Jafaar received slightly over 10% of the votes.

Populist party the biggest surprise

Great revelation of the elections is the party El Aridha of London based businessman Hamdi. No one had counted on this party’s electoral lists on forehand of the elections, absent in soundings and unknown with the diplomatic services. Aridha proves to enjoy a large popularity throughout the country and grabbed a fair share of the Assembly’s seats. To the great consternation of many Tunisians as well. Who is this Hamdi, what does he want and who has he been able to attract so many voters? A storm of protest concerning his person and the party has arisen. Aridha is reproached to be based upon populism. Most of its party program is focussed on the basic necessities of the people in backward regions: free health care, cheap education and cuts in basic food prices. Furthermore, party leader Hamdi would have a doubtable past, he is said to have collaborated with the former dictatorial regime.

During last Thursday’s press conference, the independent election authority announced that El Aridha would receive 19 instead of 25 seats (see figure). The election campaign in 5 voting districts would have been financed with foreign money, which is prohibited by law.

A changing consensus

The positive consensus among the people of the middle class and elite in the capital Tunis, see my previous blog, has changed significantly. Initially, people were very enthusiastic about the successful course of the electoral process. The understanding has now set of the great work that has to be done in the near future. The big win of Ennahda, which receives 40% of seats in the Assembly, implies that the Islamic party will be setting out the main lines in the next months. A fact that needed some time to be completely understood in secular circles. The outcomes of the election are accepted, people agree that this is, apparently, the will of the people. Discussions have now started on how to counter-balance the Islamic powerhouse, in the Constituent Assembly and in daily life.

After months of preparations, the first elections in the new Tunisia can be said to be a success. This is not my personal opinion only, national and international observers have declared that the election process was correct and successful. Tunisians themselves seem to have participated freely in pluralistic and transparent elections, democratic elections. An achievement for Tunisia and a success for the so-called Arab spring. On the other hand the elections are only the first step in the direction of a full fledged democracy. The chosen representatives of the people stand before the difficult task to form a government and to write a new constitution. They will have to work on these in a Tunisia which faces new relaties: first of all, the somehow shocking confirmation that Islam democracy is the most popular political movement in Tunisia. Second, high expectations have been raised during the campaign, which now have to be accomplished.  People are expecting a real change in their economic lifestyle. Finally, Western and Arab partners will have to be convinced once again of the chances of Tunisia  for investments, trade and international cooperation.

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