Beji Caid Essebsi Wins Tunisia’s First Presidential Election–

After Sunday’s elections, Beji Caid Essebsi of the Nida Tounis Party won Tunisia’s first free presidential race and beat his opponent, Moncef Marzouki.  Essebsi won with 55.68 percent of the vote. Congrats and good luck to Essebsi.  He is going to need it — along with a cabinet that will respect Tunisia’s various institutions.

A month after Tunisia held its first round in the presidential run, Noureddine Jebnoun analyzed the polarized politics days before the second run-off in his Al-Jazeera piece “Tunisia Caught Between Fear & Stability“.  Jebnoun teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.  He raised two points that we generally agree with:

  1. Patriarchal politics still manifest itself in the mindset of candidates and in rhetoric— patriarchy means that only the leader can promote a vision as he assumes that the citizens are perpetually uninformed and incapable of independent decision-making. No matter how much one candidate (Moncef Marzouki) may believe he differed in his approach with his opponent, patriarchy in the executive role undermines the role of the potential power others have.  Marzouki underestimates the role that social-political activists and institutions have and continue to play a role in Tunisia’s democratic process.
  2. Dismissing Islamism as a form of political thought, discourse, and organizing force that runs counter to democractization is reductioninist.  Simply stated: those that argue that Islamism is undemocratic, while secularists are inherently democratic, fail to recognize the tenets of democratiziation: inclusive political engagement for all.

An excerpt is below for this week’s PITAPAL points — Source: Al Jazeera, December 19, 2014

The Tunisian transition is perceived as exceptional in the light of the instability in the rest of the region: return of authoritarianism, spread of sectarian and ethnic violence, chaos and civil war. L Carl Brown recently praised the “Tunisian exception” for providing a “less hectic and less bloody revolutionary transition” in the Arab world.

But a closer look at Tunisian politics shows that the perceived exceptionalism of political developments in the country is somewhat overstated and necessitates a more nuanced analysis.

Political fatigue

Three years after Bouazizi’s immolation set off the Arab uprisings, Tunisia is living in the rhythm of elections. Most recently, parliamentary elections where held on October 26, followed by the first round of presidential elections. On December 21, Tunisia will have its presidential runoff between Beji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) and the incumbent interim President Moncef Marzouki. The outcome of these elections will provide the country with its first democratically elected permanent institutions.

Tunisia youth frustrated by unemployment

But as much as the world is praising these elections, Tunisians do not seem as enthusiastic. While the number of registered voters surpassed 5 million out of more than 8.2 million Tunisians of voting age, barely 3.3 million turned up at the voting stations for the first round of the presidential elections. This indicates a low voter turnout particularly among youth, the most disenfranchised social group whose mobilisation was decisive in the fall of Ben Ali’s dictatorship.

This first round of the presidential elections mirrored the political fatigue and apathy of the Tunisian electorate whose confidence in the potential of democracy to generate positive outcomes has declined. This declining confidence was already observed in the parliamentary elections, which showed that Tunisians apparently have preference for a leader with “a strong hand” who is able to stabilise the country.

Presidential candidates and sensationalist media coverage instrumentalised this desire for stability, seeking to nurture Tunisians’ anxieties and maintain their fear of insecurity in order to affect their vote.


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