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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Roadmap for Successful Elections in Tunisia

CSID National Dialogue on the Elections:

Conditions for Successful Elections in Tunisia

Six months after the Tunisian revolution and the removal of the dictator, the political scene finds itself in full election mode, with every political party scrambling to attract as many voters as possible before the October 23 elections for the Constituent Assembly. In this context, voters find themselves frustrated with the low level of productive discourse ensuing between parties, and are being put off from the process in significant numbers.

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To address this need and to discuss the conditions for successful elections, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy-Tunisia (CSID-Tunisia) and Al-Jahedh Forum co-sponsored an event at the Main Conference Hall in downtown Tunis on August 6, 2011, and invited representatives of all the top political parties and actors in the country for the beginning of a national dialogue.

Under the banner of “Towards a National Dialogue: Conditions for Successful Elections“, nine influential political actors and representatives of the main political parties in the run-up to the elections gathered for the country’s first frank discussion between parties about their intentions going into the elections.

The moderator of the conference was Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID, who began his introductory address by emphasizing the critical junction at which Tunisia finds itself today. The upcoming elections for a Constituent Assembly on October 23 are absolutely critical not only as a foundation for the developing Tunisian democracy, but as a model of success to be emulated by the rest of the Arab and Muslim world struggling to break free of tyranny. Dr. Masmoudi stressed the indispensability of the elections being conducted in a credible, free, and fair manner, and noted that the trust Tunisians will put in the Assembly and in politics as a whole will depend on how credible the elections will be. To that end, Dr. Masmoudi laid out a few imperatives he believed would ensure free and fair elections, and an installment of trust in Tunisian politics, including the presence of all political party and independent lists representatives at the 7,500 polling stations across the country so that, when it is all said and done, no one can cast doubt on the credibility of the election results.

Electoral_Process_-_2After Dr. Masmoudi spoke, Mr. Slaheddine Jourchi, President of al-Jahedh Forum, outlined six obstacles to successful elections of which Tunisians must be very aware and must work to undermine. Among those obstacles are corruption, rigging the results, using mosques as political tools, and regional divisions amongst the society. Mr. Jourchi insisted that people should not take a hands-off approach and then blame others if things go wrong, but that everyone should instead assume responsibility for this transitory period and embody the positive changes that all Tunisians wish to see. In the remaining time before the elections, Mr. Jourchi insisted that a significant portion of Tunisians remains ignorant of the realities of the Constituent Assembly, of its powers and jurisdiction, and said that this is an affront to the budding Tunisian democracy. Furthermore, Mr. Jourchi spoke about the amount of trust in current political figures and the importance of trusting those in charge of the current political transition. Trusting, Mr. Jourchi reminded the audience, does not mean passive acceptance, but rather denotes an active participation in the current political process and support for the figures’ capacity as critical transitory figures.

Electoral_Process_-_5Following Mr. Jourchi’s address, Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, Chair of the Independent Election Commission (ISIE) spearheading the election of October 23, 2011 gave an address that was overall reassuring to all parties, which is paramount as tensions have been rising in recent weeks over the lack of transparent decision-making in the ISIE. Mr. Jendoubi spoke about the importance of a national dialogue between the biggest and most influential political parties to calm rising tensions in the country and to ensure that they will work well together in the Constituent Assembly and beyond. Mr. Jendoubi also assured the public that the elections will proceed in as free and fair a manner as possible, and without the exclusion of any group.

Amin Yacoubi, Vice Secretary General of the Tunisian General Workers’ Union (UGTT), was next to speak and began by giving praise to all parties and activists involved in overthrowing the biggest dictator and oppressor of the Arab and Muslim world. He insisted that democratization is important, but that there are glaring economic and social problems that must be resolved as prerequisites to true democratization. He criticized political parties for not paying enough attention to the economic woes of the Tunisian people, and said that it ought to be part of political campaigns to reach out to people in the most rural parts of the country by focusing on solving issues like poverty and unemployment. For Yacoubi, the elections cannot be considered successful if nothing is done about the current economic and social situation in the country.

Electoral_Process_-_4Next to speak was Ali Larayedh, Head of the Political Bureau of Ennahdha party, who assured the public that the much-anticipated Ennahdha party program will be released in the very near future. He explained that it will be the culimnation of countless conference sessions and investigations into the needs of the country and the realistic ways in which those troubles can be addressed. He echoed the sentiments expressed by previous speakers in terms of their insistence on free and fair elections and on the call for national dialogue and a calming of tensions. He said that his party would be more than willing to take part in weekly dialogues between the main political parties so that the coalition building that so many are planning for after the elections can begin to take place now. It is critical, he added, for the main political players to be able to trust that they are all committed to democracy and cohabitation. From there, the rest will be taken care of.

Mouldi Riyahi, Member of the Political Bureau of Ettakatol party, followed Mr. Larayedh’s address and emphasized the latter’s final point, which is that the political parties must begin to instill hope and faith in the Tunisian people. Tunisians do not want to see hastiness in democratization, said Mr. Riyahi, and it is therefore the job of political leaders to be much more vocal and candid about their intentions in the aftermath of the elections. He also insisted that the democratic rules of engagement must be respected, and that mosques must remain nonpartisan, public spaces for all Tunisians.  Mr. Riyehi ended by highlighting the important, yet sadly weak, role of the provisional government in maintaining order and security in the country so that the elections can happen in a safe and comfortable atmosphere.

Electoral_Process_-_11The fifth panelist was Hamma Hammami, leader and founder of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (POCT), who began by reiterating Mr. Riyahi’s assertion that the provisional government needs to be doing much more to ensure the safety and protection of the Tunisian people during this fragile period of transition. Mr. Hammami described the level of fear that has been reintroduced in recent weeks, and the need to calm those fears by increased supervision and accountability of the provisional government and the ISIE. Hammami asserted the right of the Tunisian people to assemble and petition political figures peacefully, and denounced recent incidents of police brutality. He finished his address by imploring other political parties to publish clear platforms and programs so that the political scene can be made more self-evident.

Samir Ben Amor, from the Congress for the Republic, followed Mr. Hammami’s address, and began by reading blessings on those who lost their lives during the revolution, and to whom all Tunisians ought to be grateful for the right to be gathering and discussing their political future. He spoke clearly on the issue of foreign financial assistance, and clearly stated that his party is firmly against foreign money flowing into Tunisia, both directly to political parties or to associations in civil society that have political agendas.  Civil society must remian neutral vis-a-vis political parties, and cannot encourage its members or citizens at large to vote for or against any party.  Mr. ben Amor echoed many of the previous speakers in the call for National Dialogue between political parties and in the insistence on the provisional government’s duty to set the groundwork for the upcoming elections and the atmosphere required for them to proceed effectively.

Electoral_Process_-_10Next to the podium was Faouzi Ben Abderrahman, from Afek-Tunis, who seconded the statements made by Mr. Hammami about the amount of fear creeping back into the lives of many Tunisians. He outlined three crucial imperatives in the roadmap forward, including political consensus, economic and social consensus, and restoring faith in the process of democratic transition. He made clear, unequivocal calls to all political figures to begin establishing a roadmap for after the October 23 elections, so that all parties going into the elections can know to what standards they will be held by the voters. Mr. Ben Abderrahman was the first speaker to cover the topic of the Constitution; he said that his party believed it ought not take longer than 6 months to write and approve a new Constitution.

Constitutional Law Professor, Sadok Belaid, then called on parties to publish programs for the Constituent Assembly, and specific drafts for the constitution, so that they can be held accountable for the promises made after the elections. This is a part of democracy, that the citizens become increasingly active in political life and serve as checks on the authority of elected officials. It ought to be established, he said, what the jurisdiction of the Constituent Assembly is, and the boundaries of its authority ought to be defined. This is an ambiguity that was experienced after independence in 1956 and is something that needs to be avoided in the present context. To this effect, the people must insist that the Constitutional Assembly focus solely on the Constitution, and then be dissolved after the elections of a new Parliament and President. The Constitution, he says, can easily be written in less than 3-6 months, and this deadline must be demanded and can be reasonably expected by the Tunisian people.

The final speaker on the panel, Kamel Gharbi, representing the civil society association ‘Awfiya‘, spoke about the role of civil society in taking up center stage in the aftermath of the October elections, particularly when it comes to exercising its powers to survey and monitor political activity and check its power. He implored the ISIE to work more directly and openly with Tunisian civil society and not exclude it so much in its dealings.

Electoral_Process_-_14After these presentations, the floor was opened for a general discussion with the audience.  Over 35 participants spoke about various aspects of the electoral process, the need for greater cohesion and national unity between all political players, and asked several questions to the panelists.  In his concluding remarks, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, summarized the main recommendations that were generated during the whole conference for providing the necessary conditions for successful elections and transition to democracy, as follows:

1.  All political parties and independent lists must have observers and monitors present during the voting and the vote counting on election day.

2.  International monitors and observers must be allowed and encouraged to attend and monitor the elections in order to guarantee the fairness and credibility of the results.

3.  All monitors and observers must receive a certified copy of the vote counting results (PV) from each voting booth so that these results become well publicized and credible.

4.  Civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) can and should encourage citizens to participate in the elections; however, they cannot tell them who to vote for or against.

5.  Any attempt at vote rigging or buying must be severely punished, and anyone who pays or receives money to change the vote of a citizen is committing a serious crime against the nation, and must receive a severe punishment  of at least 1 to 5 years in jail.

6.  All the major political parties that attended this conference must continue to engage in weekly or bi-weekly dialogue to discuss and plan for a successful vote and transition to democracy, in the interest of the nation and of all parties involved.

At the end of the 4-hour conference, which was covered by national and international news media, including Al-Jazeera, as a momentous and unprecedented event in Tunisian politics, the packed conference hall of over 600 attendees was abuzz with the energy of the discourse the had just witnessed. There was a general consensus that the panelists had  all said precisely what the country had been lacking in the last few tumultuous weeks, and though this sort of an event was long overdue, it is certainly not too late to set excellent foundations for a national dialogue and cohesion, and for a national unity government in the months and years to come.

This report was written by Mariem Masmoudi, Development Officer at CSID, and Secretary General of the youth organization Sawty.

View the coverage of the conference on Al-Jazeera



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