By: Mehrunisa Qayyum
This coming Friday, October 23rd, Tunisia will elect candidates for the 218-seat assembly: the National Constituent Assembly, which will write the new constitution and oversee the processes for both the presidential and parliamentarian elections. (Earlier on September 15th, one of the three interim committees, the High Commission, agreed to limit the National Constituent Assembly for one year. Yadh Ben Achour chairs the High Commission.) In the short term, a number of systemic changes will facilitate other reforms. These include Tunisia’s decision to: a) indict and find Ben Ali of corruption in absentia; b) dismantle his party, Constitutional Democratic Rally, as well as the Secret Police; and c) confiscate Ben Ali’s and his cronies’ assets. We will see the mid to long term results. Though this all snowballed from Tunisia, another round of activity will ensue for not only Tunisia, but for the 21 other Arab countries since the Arab Spring proved successful in some countries–and more challenging in others.
POMED’s Guide Forward
On October 14th, The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), which is based in Washington DC, invited Chiheb Ghazouan, Mongi Boughzala, Stephen McInerney, and J. Scott Carpenter assembled to conjecture about the social and economic dynamics impact on the Tunisia’s parties’ participation in the first open elections. POMED also released its publication “A GUIDE TO THE TUNISIAN ELECTIONS”, which outlines the following points:
~Currently, over 100 political parties received legal accreditation to participate this Friday.
~Elections will comprehensively conclude in one round.
~Quotas will be calculated by counting the number of votes casted in a district (x), and then dividing ‘x’ by the number of seats allocated for that district (y).
~Gender parity among candidates is ensured by alternating between male and female candidates on each submitted list.
~Parties are required to list one candidate under the age of 30; however, many political parties do not include the face of the Jasmine Revolution–specifically 17 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 35 have registered to vote.
Managing Expectations Between Civic & Political Levels
The youth element is more engaged at the civic-social level as opposed to the political and economic levels. In a similar vein, the speakers focused primarily on the Tunisian precedent for change or the economic conditions or the “liberal” versus “conservative” role in political participation. With the exception of Boughzala’s point, the focus on youth engagement was not as prominent, as referenced in POMED’s report. Boughzala said that the youth are involvement in NGOs and associations and think tanks.
Chiheb Ghazouani is an attorney and Vice President of the Tunisian organization Afkar, which acts as a watchdog for the main political parties. Ghazouani’s key point was that both “Islamists”, or as he recategorizes as conservatives, and secularists embrace market economy.
Mongi Boughzala described the economic situation upfront: Tunisia’s unemployment is around 15 percent. Boughzala is a processor of economics at the University of Tunis El-Manar and is a research fellow at the Economic Research Forum. He added that the challenge is not whether Islamist participation will present a burden. The bigger challenge is how to manage expectations when there will be a temptation to downplay fiscal discipline.
J. Scott Carpenter, who is a Principal with Google Ideas in New York, spoke broadly about how technology could play a role to improving governance in transitional economies.
Stephen McInerney, who serves as POMED’s Executive Director, contrasted Tunisian electoral politics with Egypt’s. For example, political parties are more cohesive in Tunisia than in Egypt and that “Tunisians are more cautiously optimistic than Egyptians.”
If McInerney’s assessment of “cautious optimism” is correct, then the youth factor might be the proxy for conjecturing the success of the October 23rd elections.
POMED: The Project on Middle East Democracy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the U.S. can best support that process. Through dialogue, research, and advocacy, we aim to strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support democratic reform in the Middle East.