Tunisia Elections: Historic Process, or Event?

What makes Tunisia’s elections historic: its process or ‘E-day’?  The Tunisian elections witnessed some historic developments.  We are not just talking about the election event moment, but the overall process.  The election event moment was when The Nidaa Tounes Party, a self-described secularist party, defeated the Ennahda party in parliament.  Founded in 2012, Nidaa Tounes won the most parliamentary seats — around 35% — in its 2014 election held on October 26th.  At the same time, the election process and event were the first parliamentary elections since removing its authoritarian leadership, led by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in 2011

Previously, the  Ennahda, headed by Rachid ElGhannouchi, held the majority of seats in the 2011 election.  (PITAConsumers are well aware of PITAPOLICY’s hesitancy to use blanket terms like “secular”, “islamist”, “Liberal” and “conservative” to describe political aspirations). Maybe this is a stand-alone historic moment for those who focus on Islamist politics and movements — especially with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s brief foray into politics.  As one Tunisian voter emailed us, “It (secular party defeating an Islamist party) doesn’t matter so much…will Nidaa Tounes have a plan for the economy — parties need to have an action plan beyond defeating its opposition.”

Some may argue that the elections were historic because the losing party picked up the phone and conceded without dispute.  (Voting recounts happen in liberal democracies too, so there’s no need to be that patronizing.)  Others may argue that he process itself is historic because the 60 percent voter turnout reflects months of organizing and registering voters.  In contrast to the 2012 voter turnout for the constitutional referendum (52 percent), this year’s voter turnout was higher.  The overall process included months of voter registration and education while media outlets and watchdog groups consistently exerted pressure to gain access (while law enforcement monitored borders for security purposes.)
Here is how the 217 parliamentary seats are broken down by leading parties.
• Nidaa Tunes – 85 seats
• Ennahda – 69 seats
• Slim Riahi – 16 seats
• Popular Front – 15 seats
• Afek Tounes – 8
• Others – 24

President Obama’s Response to Tunisian Elections
Here is the entire statement by President Obama on the results of Tunisia’s 2014 Parliamentary Elections.

Elections Support Competes With Infrastructural Developments

“We need to see elections as a PROCESS, not as an EVENT. Focus on voter registration and media access.”~Director of Development, IFES

The  U.S.-based nonprofit, The International Foundation for Electoral Systems, shared some general comments following Tunisia’s peaceful election process.  IFES’s Director of Development & Programs pointed out some election dynamics that warrant some review–even in the most liberated democracies. For example, there’s such a thing as too much money. “It can be counterproductive,” observed Darnholf.  Often, donors provide huge sums of money hoping to target specific initiatives, like investing technology tools.

When huge sums are earmarked for certain initiatives, then we see high expectations invested into tech.  For example,  electronic voting may not suit the local environment.  According to the Chief Information Officer of the International Republican Institute, another democracy-building institution based in the U.S., technology is supposed to make processes easier and more transparent. When asked what would he invest if there was no budget constraint, he remarked “purchasing more Tablets”.

But, when there are obstacles in wide-scale implementation of technologies for smoother voting, or ballot-counting, then technology can not be the solution to everything within the electoral process.   IRI’s CIO noted,”Whatever wifi is available, it’s probably not secure.”  (Given this obstacle, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, for example, are not going to be adopting this by 2016. ) In each case, “expectations must be managed” explained IFES’s Darnholf.

In countries like Tunisia, IFES needs about an 18-month lead time to prepare for elections.  This involves developing systems from scratch because funding for voting systems, registration, training directly competes for donor dollars that focus on the first level of human development.  The reality is: Democracy-building and training organizations compete with initiatives that build infrastructure in education and health.  Consequently, organizations like IFES and IDEA (Institute for Democratic Electoral Assistance), must partner with other groups.

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