Putting Tunisian Democracy to the Test

ForeignPolicy.com posted my latest article, Putting Tunisian Democracy to the Test, a scene setter for this Sunday’s elections. A preview:

This Sunday, Tunisians will finally go the polls for their first real democratic elections. After ten long months of political polarization, frustrated popular hopes, and complaints about mismanagement by the interim government, the elections to the constituent assembly mark a crucial step in a transition to a representative and accountable democracy. Many now fear that the elections will fail to resolve deep societal divides, or will even make things worse by empowering Islamists or restoring former regime figures. But those fears should not overshadow the hope that Tunisia has a chance to get things right and once again set an example for the Arab world.

Thanks to Marc Lynch for the insightful comments and editing.

4 thoughts on “Putting Tunisian Democracy to the Test

  1. Hello Kefteji
    I liked the article. It summarizes well the situation.
    I just don’t agree entirely on the fact that there will be a fragmented assembly with a wide range of parties claiming a few seats. In my opinion, there will be only 6 to 7 parties represented (those you mentioned) plus probably an independent list (Dostourna). So if everything goes well, we’ll have 2 blocks (the secular forces and Ennahdha). We might see Ettakatol (Ben Jaafar) wanting to play solo. In my opinion, running the assembly should not be difficult. Let’s hope first that we get to that shore safely!

    • You raise an interesting point, just because there are a lot of parties, does not mean many will actually be elected. The proportional list system with largest remainders slightly favors smaller parties (though not the ultra small parties), so some have predicted that many small parties will get at least a seat or two. I would not be surprised if there are 15-25 parties/lists with at least a member. However, in the end what matters is that they can form a working coalition. Given the flux of even major parties (we’ve seen that kind of stuff with Afek over the last two months), there is a greater possibility for fragmentation at this point in the transition process (and under this electoral system) than at another point or under a different system (such as the Anglo favorite – first past the post, which favors two parties).

      Interesting point about Ettaktol playing solo – that could really gum up things as they get going.

      In the end, a lot depends on Ennahdha’s vote share. If they get above 35% it will be dangerous for other parties to ignore them, but if they get under 25% a secular coalition is more workable (but Ennahdha supporters will be deeply suspicious of the results, and it could lead to more fissures in the society).

  2. An interesting point to consider is about calculations. Suppose in a given cisconscription, you need 20000 voices for 1 seat. If Ennahdha has 38000 voices, there will only get 1 seat. The point is, the number of seats in the assembly will not reflect the popularity of the bigger parties. This could get Ennahdha crying out foul although there are no irregularities, just the rules of the game.

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