– October 29, 2011; Jon Foster, Howl Staff
On October 23, the North African country of Tunisia held the county’s first-ever election for a constituent assembly, the first free elections to be held since it became a nation-state in 1956. This also represents the first election test since the start of the so-called “Arab Spring.” The constituent assembly that was elected will have the power to either appoint a new government, or extend the life of the current interim government until general elections are to be held in late 2012 or early 2013.
This election was organized remarkably fast – just five months of planning and campaigning – was organized by an independent Tunisian commission, and saw the ballot attract 80 parties and countless impassioned voters who came out to exercise their new democratic right.
Tunisia, the northernmost country in Africa, is located just 248 kilometres across the Mediterranean Sea from the coast of Italy. It is home to an ancient culture which transferred possession between the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, and the Ottoman Empire before becoming a French protectorate in 1881.
In more recent times the country was governed by the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled with an iron fist from 1987 until the 2011 uprising. The country has suffered from the years of corruption of its former president and his family.
“I have observed 59 elections in the last 15 years, many of them in old democracies … and never have I seen a country able to realize such an election in a fair, free and dignified way,” said Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian and the head of the observer delegation for the Council of Europe to the Associate Press. “I was elected in Switzerland on the same day in elections that were not much better than here.”
The elections proved to be extremely successful; more than 90 percent of registered voters showed up to the voting booths.
The results, which were a bit difficult to decipher based on all the parties running, are best described in terms of their ideology. The leading ideology was economic liberalism, where the Nahda, PDP, Afek and UPL obtained 77 seats; the Islamic ideology candidates from Nahda took 65 seats; secularist parties CPR, Ettakatol, PDP, Afek, PDM, PCOT, UPL took 53 seats; social democrats CPR, Ettakatol and PDM took 38 seats; associates of the previous regime took 31 seats; and the communist party PCOT took 3 seats.
If a single party could claim victory in the election, it would be the al-Nahda who claimed about 40 percent of the popular vote and 65 seats. They are expected to form a coalition with the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) who took 22 seats, and Ettakol, who took 13 in the 217-seat assembly.
The success of the Tunisians will be hard to replicate and is said to be a milestone for the Arab Spring, a wave of uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East. Elections will be held in Egypt and Morocco next month, while Libya’s turn should arrive later this year.