Mixed feelings as Tunisia goes to the polls

Unprecedented numbers of voters queued in Tunisian streets in October for the first democratic elections of the Arab Spring.

The world watched, hailing Tunisia an “example” to the region and an historic “experiment” in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The majority vote went to the moderate Islamist party Ennadha, despite the insignificant influence of Islamists during the revolution nine months earlier.

The six-month anniversary of the revolution was marked by protests and riots across the country targeting state property—namely police stations—demanding jobs and the resignation of the interim and justice ministers.

The elected constituent assembly will draft Tunisia’s new constitution. Candidate lists included those aged under 30, to give higher representation to the country’s youth and an equal number of men and women as specified by the post-revolution Gender Parity Law.

Over 100 new political parties and 14,000 candidates emerged on the electoral landscape but only just over 50 per cent of the eligible population signed up to vote. There is widespread disillusionment with post-revolution political structures still influenced by the old regime.

The electoral debate focused on questions of religion and democracy, not the social and economic concerns raised by the Tunisian masses in their revolution. But with many voting for the first time, for some it was a positive collective experience.

The Tunisian people awarded Ennadha 89 of the 217 seats in the constituent assembly. They were followed by the centre-left Congress for the Republic (29 seats) and the Popular Petition (26 seats).
Ennadha’s victory has been controversial, described by some as a “serious defeat of the left”. The party has an ambiguous position on the rights of women. But despite the claims of France, they are not hostile to Western powers—they are strongly pursuing economic co-operation with Western capital. In fact they recently described workers’ demands for higher salaries as “counter-revolutionary”.

But nevertheless, industrial action is intensifying. A series of strikes rocked the country around election time. Workers in one of Tunisia’s most important oil refineries paralysed production with a strike under the slogan “employment or death”.

Employees of the Brewery and Refrigeration Company of Tunis also struck in several cities across the country, as did postal workers demanding wage rises and increased staff.

Nine months after the revolution that made Ben Ali the first domino to fall in the Arab Spring, Tunis also hosted its first Occupy event in November.

Mokhtar Ben Hafsa commented that it was the first time since the revolution that “all the [political] currents participated strongly in a protest [under clear] slogans: the people want to abolish the debt, no to the Jasmine Plan of the G8, we are the 99 per cent etcetera. I hope that this development gives fruit to the coordination and militancy on social and anti-capitalist questions, no longer falling into the hands of the counter-revolution”.

By Olivia Nigro


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