The Call of Tunisia party, which emerged as the winner of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, would opt to form an alliance with “democratic” parties to secure a majority in the parliament, a senior group member has said.
“If we have to form an alliance, it would be with the democratic parties; the Popular Front, Afek Tounes and Social Democratic Path,” said Aymen Bejaoui, apparently rejecting the Islamist Ennahda’s call for a national unity government.
“In any other country I would say [the idea that they would cooperate or form a coalition] would be far fetched,” says Amy Hawthorne, a resident senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “However this is Tunisia, and there’s a process of consensus-building and a real desire for stability and stable government.”
Yet it will be a challenge for Nidaa to bring all three parties into coalition, Nouri Verghese reports for Middle East Eye:
Free Patriotic Union is led by Slim Riahi, a wealthy businessman whose lavish spend in his the 2011 electoral campaign, along that of the Progressive Democratic Party, led to the introduction of spending caps on advertising by political parties. Like Afek Tounes, founded in 2011, Riahi’s party supports a free-market economic policy, which would put it at loggerheads in any coalition with the Popular Front. A coalition of 12 leftist parties, made up of communists, Marxists as well as Arab nationalists, the Popular Front’s internal makeup is as diverse as that of Nidaa Tounes.
“It’s too early to write Ennahda off,” said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. “It’s still the second largest party. It will lay a strong role in the parliament and in the outcome of the presidential elections because their support for a candidate will count for a lot in the bargaining process.”
“Building a coalition of such diverse interests [with the smaller parties] will be difficult,” hesaid. “I don’t think Nidaa can form a government without Ennahda.”
The victory of Nidaa Tounes “represents a resoundingly negative verdict on the Islamists’ two years at the head of the government, between 2012–2013,” The Economist notes:
Senior Nahda figures concede that the job of running the country, and especially the economy, was more challenging than they had anticipated. The leader, Rached Ghannouchi (above), told party supporters that five years out of power could be salutary…..
Despite its victory, Nidaa Tounes has not been able entirely to shake off the reputation that it represents an attempt by members of the previous ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), to regain influence. In what was in effect a single-party state, the RCD built clientelist relations running from taxi-drivers and corner-shop owners, to non-governmental organisations, lawyers, senior civil servants and—importantly for its funding—business people.
Although Nida Tunis includes figures from the old regime, the changes in the country since the revolution preclude a return to former repressive practices, the FT’s Heba Saleh reports:
Civil society organisations empowered after the revolution helped Nahda and its secular opponents forge crucial compromises that enabled the democratic process to remain on track. Last year, two assassinations of leftwing politicians by Islamist militants provoked an explosion of popular anger, deepened the polarisation between Islamists and secular groups and brought calls for an unravelling of the process.
“A lot of people will see the results as a setback,” said Brahim Rouabah, a researcher at the Tunis-based American Institute for Maghreb Studies. “But one thing that is sure is that civil society, and more broadly Tunisians, in the last couple of years have [become] used to certain rights and freedoms [on which] it will be hard to backtrack.”
So what changed between this election and the last one? asks Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:
First, Islamism in general, and the Brotherhood in particular, including analogous parties like Ennahda, are in sharp decline in popularity in mainstream Arab societies. The past year and a half or so has registered a significant downturn in the fortune of Brotherhood and other parliamentary-oriented Islamist groups in the Arab world seeking power through elections. ….Arabs have had the opportunity to watch Islamists in power, and to register the fact that they aren’t any cleaner, more honest, more competent or more effective than other groups. Indeed, in some cases, considerably less so.
Which brings us to the second big change between this Tunisian election and the last one: the rise of Nidaa Tounes. Last time around Ennahda got a much larger percentage of the vote than it did this time, but it still wasn’t a majority. The majority was secular, or at least non-Islamist, but it was spread among at least 20 parties. Ennahda faced virtually no significant Islamist opposition, so all of the votes accruing to that faction went to them….
The third big difference is that in the last election Ennahda campaigned on social and economic issues, presenting themselves as the authentic representatives of “the revolution.” Most of its secular and non-Islamist rivals focused on trying to spread fear of Ennahda. It was never going to work…..RTWT
Representatives from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and Tunisian civil society watchdog Mourakiboun–all of which, combined, deployed over 4,000 independent observers to monitor polling stations around the country–presented their findings on a broadly positive note, TunisiaLive reports.
“To all those who pronounce the end of democracy in this region, I urge you to visit Tunisia,” said NDI President Kenneth Wollack.
An observer mission from the International Republican Institute described the electoral process as “credible, transparent and allowed for genuine political competition among political stakeholders”.
Polls have indicated that the economy is Tunisians’ highest priority, FT analyst Main Ridge reports:
A recent World Bank report describes how rigid red tape and misconceived policies – introduced by the ousted president but still in place – have stultified the economy, preventing investment and job creation. That report says that:
Tunisia presents an economic paradox. It has everything it needs to become a “Tiger of the Mediterranean”, yet this economic potential never seems to materialize.
Since Tunisia obtained a two-year, $1.78bn loan from the IMF on the understanding that it would pursue economic reforms last year, the country has cut fuel subsidies and more recently has imposed new taxes. It has also been allowing the dinar to depreciate in order to rebuild foreign reserves from low levels.
Capital Economics said in a note that the election was “another important step in Tunisia’s long and bumpy road to democracy” and that there were two obvious outcomes to Tunis’s win, Ridge adds:
The peaceful nature of the elections suggested that political stability was returning to the country which may prompt firms to resume investment projects as well as attract foreign investment. Moreover, an easing of security concerns would help to lift the tourism sector out of its recent slump. This should lay the foundations for a gradual acceleration in growth over the coming years – GDP growth has languished around 2.5% since 2011. Note that a return to political stability in Egypt has helped to support a sharp pick-up in growth there.
Tunisia has made some progress toward the independent press, free speech, and freedom of assembly–it is now possible to vent one’s public views without fear of a visit from the secret police, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Max Boot, a member of the IRI delegation:
But much of the old corrupt bureaucracy which once served Ben Ali remains on the job, serving as a bar to further progress and stifling economic development with its heavy-handed, French-style socialism and cronyism.
Interestingly enough, the Islamist party, known as Ennahda, is more committed to free-market reforms than the big secular bloc known as Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which bested it in Sunday’s voting. Ennahda shares this characteristic with the Turkish AKP party which, while Islamist, has also been more free-market oriented than most of its secular predecessors. And indeed Ennahda is trying to position itself as the “moderate” face of Islam, claiming it is committed both to Islam and to pluralistic democracy.