While the Electoral Commission keeps counting votes, we can already draw five quick conclusions about the historic elections in Tunisia last Sunday. Here they are:
1.-An Arab democracy. Despite some minor infractions, the legislative elections that took place in Tunisia last Sunday were clean, according to the thousands of national and international monitors. The country has passed with a good grade the final test to be considered a full democracy. Firstly, it elected a Constituent Assembly in late 2011. Two years later, a new democratic Constitution was approved. And finally, the recent elections have confirmed a peaceful transition of power. Tunisia has proved wrong all those who said that democracy could not take hold in an Arab country and it has set an example for other countries in the region.
2.-Low turnout shows wide dissatisfaction. On Sunday, some early reports welcomed a “heavy turnout”, while the Electoral Commission estimated that it was around 60% of registered citizens. However, the number is rather disappointing. Given that only 5,2 million voters registered to vote out of roughly 8 million, the real turnout was around 34%. That is, quite weaker than the 52% in the 2011 elections. More than one million voters were lost compared to those polls.
The reason is the dissatisfaction with the performance of political parties, their polarization and inability to improve people’s life after a revolution that created high expectations. Since the army does not seem interested in taking over the country, the low turnout does not represent a risk for the transition to democracy. At least, not in the short run. But political parties and the Electoral Commission must reflect on its causes, unless they want to give up the objective of building a vibrant democracy.
3.-Yes, it’s possible to defeat the islamists in the ballot box. For a long time, two fake truisms have circulated around the Arab World. The “one man, one vote, one time” theory argued that once Islamists took power in a country through elections, they would cancel elections and turn the country into a dictatorship. The other one contended that it was not possible to defeat the Islamists in the ballot box, since Muslims vote according to their religions values or identity and not based on the performance of political parties.
Both theories were shattered by a single strike last Sunday. Ennahda, the main Islamist party in Tunisia, was defeated because of its mistakes while in power and it conceded victory even before the official results were announced. The same could have happen in Egypt with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood if the secular opposition had been more patient instead of quickly throwing itself in the arms of the Army. Unfortunately, the country will pay dearly for this mistake in the coming years or maybe decades.
4.-Not easy choices for a coalition government. The partial results released so far suggest a clear victory of Nidaa Tunis with around 32% of the vote, not enough to reach an absolute in the perfectly proportional electoral system in Tunisia. Unless Nidaa backtracks on its promise of not joining hands with Ennahda, a central idea not only to its platform but to the party’s identity, the task of forming a coalition government will be quite difficult. Apart from the two big parties, the Parliament will include a constellation of small secular parties, which means that any coalition will have to include at least three parties without a coherent ideology. Probably, a key issue in the negotiations will be the party alliances in the upcoming presidential elections of November 27th.
5.-Yesterday’s victory, tomorrow’s defeat for Nidaa? Nidaa Tunis was born as an anti-Ennhada coalition formed by leftist politicians, technocrats from the Ben Ali era and businessmen. Rather than a party with an ideology, it is a loose platform that does not have a defined program to govern Tunisia. The fact that its leader and presidential candidate, Beji Caïd Essebsi, is leading many polls suggests that the party could hold both the posts of president and primer minister. That is, total power. In a moment of tough challenges, especially in the economic domain, to govern without a coherent party and government coalition could be a recipe for disaster in next elections. Nidaa’s victory today could spell its implosion tomorrow.