Analysing Tunisia’s first post-revolutionary legislative elections

By Abdul Latif al-Hanachi

Introduction

Tunisia’s political elite overcame various obstacles during the initial stages of democratic transition, and successfully revived several constitutional institutions,[1] thanks to the spirit of rapprochement and the concessions made by major political players. The Constitution of the Second Republic that was finalised earlier this year is comparable to the constitutions of mature democracies, and superior in some respects.[2] The constituent assembly also issued a law governing elections and referenda,[3] and elected nine members to the Higher Independent Electoral and Referendum Commission to oversee the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 26 October 2014 and 23 November 2014 respectively, concluding the third phase of democratic transition.

Tunisia’s first legislative elections will occur amid challenging economic, social and security conditions. Most economic sectors have witnessed declining production, adversely affecting the growth rate.[4] The unemployment rate remains high at about 15.2 per cent, especially among university graduates – among whom unemployment was at 31.4 per cent during the first third of 2014.[5] 

There are persistent rumours of a terrorist plot with a ‘regional’ dimension, which would attack Tunisia’s political stability and create chaos and confusion in the transition by targeting the electoral process.[6] Regional upheaval, including the recent violence and instability in Libya, has direct consequences for Tunisia. Algeria is also concerned about what it regards as potentially unfavourable outcomes of Tunisia’s elections.[7] Moreover, the regional and broader Arab disturbances impact Tunisia since most countries in this region, despite their contradictory strategies, seek to derail the democratic process in Tunisia.[8] They may act together and sometimes employ local militant groups that use political terrorism in attempts to thwart Tunisia’s emerging democracy.[9]

 

General characteristics of the candidate lists

The number of candidate lists for the legislative elections has reached 1 336, as illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: Number of candidate lists for Assembly of Representatives at home[10]

List Type

At Home

Percentage

Party

729

 

Coalition

140

 

Independent

349

 

Total

1,218

100

These lists were finalised after 175 lists were dropped – including seventy-nine party lists, twelve coalition lists, and eighty-four independent lists.[11] A total of 15 652 candidates will compete for 217 seats in the Assembly of Representatives, with an average of seventy-two candidates contesting each seat. This large number reflects the Tunisian enthusiasm to participate in public affairs after decades of isolation and authoritarianism.

Some 5 236 240 citizens have registered to vote, representing almost 70 per cent of the eligible electorate. A high proportion of registered voters (63 per cent) are in the eighteen to forty year age bracket, and 51 per cent of women have registered – up from about 45 per cent in 2011.[12] That the targeted 10 per cent threshold for women candidates was not met suggests that the major parties marginalised Tunisian women, although the proportion of female heads of electoral lists rose from less than 3 per cent in 2011 to nearly 8 per cent. This phenomenon is not unusual in the Arab and Muslim world.[13] Despite the high proportion of young people who registered compared to the 2011 election, their representation remains limited, as evidenced by the absence of youth from the leadership on candidate lists.

A new phenomenon in the political landscape is the prominence of businessmen on party lists. The Ennahda Movement has nine businessmen on its list,[14] Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) has seven,[15] and a quarter of the Afek Tounes (Tunisian Aspiration) list is businessmen.[16] This extraordinary number of businessmen candidates has sparked considerable controversy in political and intellectual circles, especially since most businessmen are candidates in areas where there is no economic development.[17]

The competitors

Party lists

814 party lists have been submitted for the legislative election, including eighty-two from abroad. In total, 1 218 lists were accepted and 175 were rejected at home. Table 2 breaks down these lists.

Table 2: Accepted and Rejected Lists at Home[18]

Accepted Lists

Rejected Lists

Party

Coalition

Independent

Party

Coalition

Independent

729

140

349

79

12

84

Total: 1,218

Total: 175

The large parties presented candidates in all constituencies, while other parties only registered a presence in selected districts. A phenomenon that characterised the preparations for these elections, especially when candidacy was being declared, was the number of acrimonious disputes that led to the resignation of prominent party members, though this varied from one party to another.[19]

Table 3: District Presence by Party, at Home and Abroad

Party

Lists at Home

Lists Abroad

Percentage

Renaissance Movement

27

6

100

Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties

27

6

100

Congress for the Republic

27

6

100

Republican Party

27

6

100

Constitutional Movement

23

2

 

Call for Tunisia

27

6

100

Democratic Movement

27

5

97

Democratic Alliance

26

4

91

Wafa’ Movement

27

6

100

People’s Movement

26

2

 

Parties currently represented in the Constituent Assembly

Renaissance Movement (Ennahda)

The Renaissance Movement is fielding candidates in all districts, with twenty-seven lists within Tunisia and six from the diaspora. It appears to have followed democratic methods in the process of selecting and sorting the heads and members of lists, with limited interference. Its lists were generally characterised by social, educational and career diversity, as shown in the following table:

Table 4: Demographics of Ennahda’s Lists

Demographic

Percentage

Female

46

Male

54

Youth

18

Education Level

84

Secondary Education Sector Employees

47

Primary Education Sector Employees

11

Education Employees

6

Thirteen of the movement’s electoral lists were headed by deputies from the Constituent Assembly and five by former ministers. In total, ten former ministers are members on the movement’s lists, along with nine businessmen, eleven lawyers and six physicians.[20]

This party is one of the most solid in terms of its structure and discipline, and its geographic and social reach. It promotes speech characterised by maturity and the desire to build a democratic model.[21] Despite its obvious strengths compared with other weaker parties, the relative size of Ennahda’s electoral base will probably shrink, due to its past performance and the fallout resulting from its administration of the government, as well as other structural factors. Significantly, most other parties represented in the Constituent Assembly have experienced internal tensions that have led to splits.

The Bloc Party

Though it has experienced heavy withdrawals, this party has fielded twenty-seven lists at home and six abroad. Women chair five lists, and six lists are headed by members of the Constituent Assembly. A former minister in the Troika government chairs one list.

Congress Party for the Republic

Dissidents from this party established three new parties, but the Congress Party is still contesting all thirty-three districts. List chairs include four ministers of the Troika government and a minister of Beji Caid Essebsi’s government, as well as five deputies from the Constituent Assembly. There are seven female heads of electoral lists, including one from France, while five independents and seven young people under the age of thirty-five also chair lists.[22]

Though these latter two parties are certain to access the Assembly of Representatives, their representation will be lower than it was in the Constituent Assembly elections, due to several structural and objective factors.

The Republican Party

The Republican Party has fielded lists in all districts despite the secession of some groups and key figures. Its chances are not good, as was the case in the 2011 election.

The new parties

These parties have uneven or no presence in the Constituent Assembly, but several were able to field lists in all districts. Recently formed parties include the Democratic Movement (split from the Congress Party), which is fielding lists in twenty-seven constituencies at home and five abroad; and the Democratic Alliance Party (split from the Republican Party) which has fielded thirty lists, including four abroad. The Wafa’ movement (another split from the Congress Party) has fielded lists across all constituencies.

Call for Tunisia

This party has an unusual composition. As a coalition of several homogeneous movements (trade unionists, leftists and other associates and constitutionalists), it is therefore organisationally structured (except for the central leadership). However. it does not have a clear or cohesive manifesto and appears to be working to counter-balance the Renaissance movement in terms of policy and popular support. Despite some resignations when its electoral lists were decided, it fielded lists in all constituencies, twenty-seven at home and six abroad. Along with the Constitutional Movement Party, it is one of the few parties that can seriously challenge the Renaissance Party.[23]

Constitutional Movement Party (Destourian Movement)[24]

The constitutional and congregational parties have failed to unite, but were able to present lists in most districts. The Constitutional Movement Party has fielded twenty-five lists, twenty-three of them inside the republic and two abroad.

Several of its lists are headed by prominent politicians from the old regime.[25] Consequently, some disgruntled members of constitutional parties presented independent lists in parallel with their parties, which could lead to the dispersion of those parties’ votes.[26] Despite the past suffering inflicted by the rule of the Democratic Constitutional Rally, it is still probable that these parties will gain a significant number of seats in the legislature.

Other political actors

The Nationalists

The nationalists remain dispersed, divided and incapable of forming an independent cohesive unit. Vulnerable to the lure of both Islamists and leftists, some have decamped to the Popular Front, while others will run independently or on the People’s Movement ticket, which is fielding lists in twenty-six districts at home and two abroad. Yet others initially boycotted the elections (al-Bashir, al-Said, al-Murabitun); hence their chances of success remain weak and limited.

The Salafis

Salafis represent the ‘default electoral stockpile’, as characterised by a source close to them. While some parties bet on their support, they may actually constitute a poor election bargain, given that some Salafi groups will contest the elections as the Reform Front Party (al-Isla).[27] The Reform Front Party will field lists in twenty-three districts as part of a coalition with the National Independence Party under the slogan, ‘The people demand’.[28] Other Salafis will participate in the Isla that is running in four constituencies.[29]

Alliances and Coalitions

Although the Tunisian polity has had some successful electoral alliances,[30] the formation of coalitions in the post-revolution period has been limited, as demonstrated in the 2011 elections. In 2014, despite acknowledgement that ‘alliances (are) crucial to avoid the predominance of Renaissance Party’,[31] alliance formation has been slow in practice. The main parties that oppose the Troika and the Renaissance Party have only formed partial alliances, and only 140 lists for the October 2014 elections are coalition lists. This represents a 12 per cent increase, not counting coalition lists abroad.

Table 5: Major Alliances and Coalitions

Alliance or Coalition

Lists at Home

Lists Abroad

Percentage

The Popular Front

27

6

100

Union for Tunisia

27

5

97

Al-Mahaba (Love) Movement

27

6

100

Initiative Party

27

6

100

National Salvation Front

15

1

 

Popular Front

The Popular Front includes leftist and nationalist parties, independents and some associations.[32] It successfully resolved the dilemma of distributing shares at the top of the electoral lists. Allowing differential quotas ensured that parties with the most solid local and regional representation gained the largest share of list chairs. It has presented twenty-seven lists at home and six lists abroad. There is only partial data available on the front’s electoral list heads.[33]

Union for Tunisia[34]

Established on the basis that it ‘modified the balance of power created by the National Constituent Assembly elections’, this coalition’s stated goals include avoiding the dispersion of ‘the democratic family’s’ votes in the legislative elections. However, the Call for Tunisia Party withdrew from the Union for Tunisia and entered the legislative elections alone. Only two parties remain in the coalition, namely the Democratic Path Party (previously the Renewal Party) and the National Democratic Action Party. The Union for Tunisia has a presence in thirty-two constituencies, twenty-seven at home and five abroad. This alliance’s chance seem quite modest, due to its limited social and geographical breadth.

Al-Mahaba (Love) Stream

The al-Mahaba Stream, which came second in the 2011 Constituent Assembly elections, is led from London by al-Hachimi al-Hamidi.[35] It introduced coalition lists in all constituencies in record time,[36] but is unlikely to achieve a strong showing in 2014, and may struggle to gain even a quarter of its previous representation, due to various factors.

National Constitutional Initiative Party[37]

This coalition initially had nine parties; but three of them withdrew (the Blue Dove Party, the Third Option Party and the Tunisia of Tomorrow Party). It presented lists for twenty-seven constituencies inside Tunisia and five abroad. It is fielding candidates in cooperation with the Constitutional Movement in Tunisia 1, and is supporting an independent list in Tozer district. Four women chair lists in the National Constitutional Initiative Party.[38]

National Salvation Front[39]

Consisting of six parties and civic organisation, this alliance chose to run in sixt

 

een constituencies, including one abroad. It expressed willingness to support the Union for Tunisia’s lists in the remaining districts.

Several of these coalitions are unlikely to secure seats in Tunisia’s first post-revolution parliament. Aside from the Popular Front, which could gain a significant share of seats, the constituent parties of most alliances have very limited breadth.

Independent Lists

Independents presented 348 lists at home and seventeen lists abroad. Most are scattered across the inland provinces, where marginalisation, poverty and unemployment are pervasive. These areas played a more significant role in the revolution than some of the coastal areas that are fielding large numbers of lists (for example, Kasserein has thirty-one lists and Sidi Bouzid has twenty-seven, versus nine lists in Sousse and two lists in Nabeul), which may call into question the commitment and nationalism of some party founders.[40] tThe large number of independents in marginalised areas indicates that important sectors of the Tunisian citizenry lack confidence in the major parties. Some analysts consider the independents to be a less positive phenomenon that contributes to vote dispersion and ultimately weakens the system, leading to an overall lack of representation for everyone. Whatever the case, some of these independents will secure seats in the Assembly of Representatives, and may become significant players if the independent representatives form a bloc.

Trends in Tunisia’s political map

This election has induced fierce competition[41] among the key players in Tunisia’s polity. It will be an important barometer of the popularity of political parties and their policy positions. Hence, every party seeks to prove its relevance by garnering votes. But this will not necessarily lead to fundamental post-election changes in the Tunisian arena. Logically, the electoral weight of parties that were represented in the Constituent Assembly will shrink, for both the former Troika and the broad popular parties. The Congress, Bloc and Broad Popular parties have all experienced internal divisions, followed by the exit of prominent figures who later formed new parties.

Though the Renaissance Party has suffered relatively limited internal tensions,[42] some factors that helped it to secure the majority of votes in the Constituent Assembly elections no longer exist, and it may lose ground due to the way it administered the government, or due to positions and political behaviours that were necessitated by specific circumstances. Nonetheless, the decrease in Renaissance votes is unlikely to alter its position as the frontrunner in Tunisian politics. – It seems set to garner the most votes, while its former allies (the Congress and Bloc) are unlikely to achieve similar success, especially given the rise of the Call for Tunisia and some congregational and constitutional parties. It is probable that the Republican Party’s influence will diminish and that some of the new political parties that split from both the Congress and Republican parties may appear on Tunisia’s new political map. The Popular Front may well increase the number of its deputies as a result of gathering votes from its constituent parties, and considering its relative geographical and social reach.

Summary

Tunisia’s new political map is tending towards dual polarisation, dominated by the Renaissance Party and the Call for Tunisia Party, with the congregational parties potentially playing a significant role if no-one secures an absolute majority. While the electoral law does not preclude coalitions, Tunisia has several parties that are closely identified with other parties, either intellectually or in terms of their objectives. This complicates the polity in the post-election phase, with a power-sharing scenario between two or more parties being the most probable outcome.[43]Some have hypothesised that the Renaissance Party could form an alliance with the Call for Tunisia, while others have posited a tripartite coalition between the Renaissance, Congregational and Call for Tunisia parties, which would isolate the rest of the parties.

All parties will undoubtedly face tests of their ability to maintain cohesion and discipline, and may be judged on their performance during the election campaign, with the media often directing the battle. Regional and international players, through financial and logistical support for the major political parties, add an element of pressure which can be exerted very subtly. Such pressures have been evident in Tunisia since the revolution,[44]and will inevitably increase during the elections, exacerbated by the regional conflict between those who support the rule of political Islam and those who oppose it. Each side will invest resources aimed at achieving victory in the forthcoming elections, with concomitant pressures that increase in tandem with the deteriorating Libyan situation and the inevitable political and economic consequences for Tunisia.

Rationalisation of the political landscape in Tunisia’s emerging democracy requires transforming political pluralism from an incumbent that hinders to an incumbent that produces results, and develops political life in general and democracy in particular. This necessitates a reduction in the number of political parties in return for building alliances between parties that have a common vision and shared goals. The Tunisian polity has not yet reached this level of political maturity, which evolves over time. For now, Tunisian voters will remain distracted by an overwhelming number of parties about which they have little or limited knowledge.

 *Dr. Abdul Latif al-Hanachi is a professor of contemporary and current political history at the University of Manobeh in Tunis

 


 

[1]             National Independent Commission for Judiciary, Media, Transitional Justi

ce and Elections.

[2]             Etat uaranties d’un Tunisie, ‘La nouvelle Constitution uara-t-elle les: démocratique?’, 29 January 2014, www.huffpostmaghreb.com.

[3]             Fundamental Law Concerning Elections and Referendum Number 16 of 2014, dated 26 May 2014, Official Gazette Number 42, dated 27 May 2014.

[4]             Zomorodah Delhoma, ‘Pointing to The Absence of Any Signs of a Breakthrough: The Central Bank Announces the Seriousness of the Trade Deficit’, 3 September 2014, http://www.lemaghreb.tn.

[5]             Shiraz Rahali, ‘After Ensuring That Tunisian Economy is Unable to Emp

lo

y, Smuggling Trade Attracts Young People at Border Areas’, 5 September 2014, http://www.lemaghreb.tn.

[6]             Kawthar Zentor, ‘Twelve Terrorists Arrested and Eleven RPG Shells Seized: Preparation for the Bombings in Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine’, 6 September 2014, www.lemaghreb.tn. See also: Reza Safar, ‘There is a Regional Scheme to Strike Tunisia’s Political Stability’, 3 September 2014, http://www.tuniscope.com.

 

[7]             The recent visit of Mr. Rachid Ghannouchi to Algeria, by official invitation of the Algerian state, and his meeting with former President Bouteflika, has potential implications in this regard. See: ‘Ghannouchi in Algeria, Libyan Situation Strongly Present This Time: Common Concerns and Interests Brought The Two Parties Together’, 26 August 2014,http://www.assabah.com.tn.

 

[8]             ‘Shafiq Sarsar Warns of The Four Dangers Threatening the Election’, 30 August 2014, http://www.africanmanager.com.

 

[9]             Haitham Ahmed, ‘Upcoming Elections Test Tunisian Compatibility”, July 2014, http://altagreer.com. This report examines the roles of Kuwait and the UAE in attempts to ‘get the Renaissance Party out of the government’, through economic pressures and indirectly through the African Development Bank, the World Bank and Intern

 

ational Monetary Fund, all of which have demanded economic reforms as conditions to provide loans to Tunisia.

 

[10]           The week’s events as seen by Ghazi Algharairi (Secretary-Gene

 

ral of the International Academy of Constitutional Law), ‘The Political Arena is Still in its Primitive Beginnings’, 31 August 2014, http://www.alchourouk.com.

 

[11]           The number of dropped lists is not available for immigrant circles, despite allegations that nineteen of them were dropped. All data was sourced either from the Supreme Commission for Elections website, www.isie.tn, or through personal and direct contact with the commission’s main office.

 

[12]           Essahafa, ‘The number of registered voters in the elections is satisfactory and positive’, 28 August 2014, http://www.essahafa.info.tn.

 

[13]           Agora-Parl, ‘Sub-Regional Forum report on Women’s Participation in the Parliamentary Elections After the Revolution’, http://www.agora-parl.org.

 

 

[14]           African Manager, ‘Major Parties in Tunisia Compete to Attract Businessmen Points to a “Business Assembly” instead of “People’s Assembly” after the elections’, 28 August 2014, www.africanmanager.com.

 

[15]           A businessmen nominated by them stated that he has differences with the Renaissance, but he ran in service of his region and to build an economic system on the Turkish model. 28 August 2014, www.africanmanager.com.

 

[16]           Yassin Ibrahim, ‘25 percent is the Proportion of Businessmen on Prospects Party Lists’, 3 September 2014, http://www.africanmanager.com.

 

[17]           Abdul Wahab al-Haj Ali, ‘For Fear of Extremist Liberal Parliament, The Influx of Businessmen on the Electoral Lists is “Suspicious” and Bouchmawi illustrates!’ 1 September 2014, http://www.assabah.com.tn.

 

[18]           Subject to the official announcement after a competent court considers the objections.

 

[19]           Alchourouk, ‘Mercat Parties in the Final Moments Before the Election:

 

Differences Between the Old Benefiting the Young’, 24 August 2014, http://www.alchourouk.com.

 

[20]           Assabah News, ‘Renaissance Lists: Most Candidates Education Men’, 25 August 2014, http://www.assabahnews.tn. See also: http://arabi21.com/News/Print/771411.

 

[21]           Statement of Session 27 of Renaissance Movement Shura Council, 7 September 2014, Tunisia, http://www.ennahdha.tn, and Rachid Ghannouchi’s speech at the opening session of this council.

 

[22]           Salwa Altarhuni, ‘Heads of Congress Party for the Republic’s Lists’, 30 August 2014, http://www.tunisien.tn.

 

[23]           Bojuma Alrumaili, ‘In the Composition of Its Electoral Lists: A Call Exam or a National Exam?’ 26 August 2014, http://www.lemaghreb.tn.

 

[24]           Founded by former Prime Minister Hamed al-Karoui and Abderrahi

 

m Zouari, former minister in the Bourguiba and Ben Ali eras, the party nominated the latter minister for the current presidential elections. The party also includes an important group of ministers and senior officials who worked with the pre-revolution regimes, including Abbas Mohsen (Tunisia 1), mayor in the Ben Ali era, Tijani Haddad (Ariyana), former minister of tourism, Abeer Mosa (Beja), former Assembly Party lawyer, and Saeed Nasser Ramadan, former Secretary of State and a senior Assembly Party official.

 

[25]           Hamed Karawi (Founder of the Constitutional Movement), ‘Ready for Legislative and Presidential Elections’, 12 September 2014, http://www.alchourouk.com.

 

[26]           In addition to Future Party lists, lists of the Liberals Constitutionalists Movement Party and independent lists, most notably the lists prepared by the Central Committee member of the dissolved Congregation Party, Ayaz Alwadrani. Also, there were joint lists between the Initiative Party and the Constitutional movement and a number of minor parties with Constitutional and Congregational backgrounds.

 

[27]           Given a licence to operate legally in May 2012.

 

[28]           Alchourouk, ‘2014 Elections: Salafists in the Legi

 

slative Election Race: Their Chances and Their Alliances’, 2 September 2014, http://www.alchourouk.com.

 

[29]           Given a licence to operate legally in June 2012 and is considered the first Salafi party to get a legal activity license. It ran in Kairouan, Qabis,

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 May 2015 16:15

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