After the Revolution, what's next for Tunisia?

After the elections have been postponed to October 23rd, many questions have risen regarding the future of Tunisia and its learning of democracy. Interrogations remain regarding voters' registration and turnout, as well as the actual organization of the electoral process.


After Ben Ali fled the country on January 14th, unrest continued in the streets of Tunis and all across the country, with armed militias (Ben Ali’s former security services) looting entire neighborhoods. Riots erupted again, prompting Prime Minister Ghannouchi, who was acting as the head of state, to resign on February 27th

Constitutional elections (to elect the Assembly which will write down the new Constitution), after being postponed over and over due to “technical difficulties” since January 14th, will finally take place on October 23rd. This will  help the dozen newly formed parties still striving to organize for these elections, since they have to build everything from the ground up. 

This however upsets the liberal and Islamist parties, the only ones established under Ben Ali, who benefit from the experience acquired during their long “hibernation”. Since Ben Ali’s destitution, a total of 81 new political parties have been registered in Tunisia, while the former giant, the RCD, has been dissolved.

Both the leading liberal faction, the Progressive Democratic Party, and the main Islamist party, Al Nahda, initially opposed the postponement. They argued that Tunisia needed to move as fast as possible to a more legitimate authority, ending the continuing outbreaks of strikes and demonstrations by workers and young people eager to protect their revolution. But they ended up recognizing that it was impossible to set up electoral lists and voting polls in time anyway.

"There are parties who did not agree, even the government did not agree, but our mission is to hold free and transparent elections," said Acting Prime Minister Essebsi (a well-respected 85 years old former opponent to Ben Ali)   adding that Tunisia and its revolution "have a reputation that we must protect".

However, there is concern about the involvement of the Tunisian people in these elections, given that only 16% of the voting population had registered on the day before the initial deadline. A group of Tunisian bloggers has launched a campaign to encourage the population to join the registration campaign, from July 11th to August 2nd. However, turnouts were so low that the transition government decided to extend the deadline for registration until August 14th. A group of Tunisian bloggers has launched a campaign to encourage the population to join the registration campaign, from July 11th to August 2nd. According to the Financial Times, this had been successful since voter registration went up to 39% on August 8th, with six days left before the deadline.

The unfolding political process has also highlighted Tunisia’s unusually liberal culture, especially on the issue of women’s equality. In planning for the election, the Tunisian authorities are requiring that all participating parties list as many women as men as candidates, and to alternate them on the ballots, to encourage a more even representation of women in the constituent assembly.

Al Nahda, which is culturally conservative by Tunisian standards, supported the idea, perhaps in part because it developed a strong cadre of women to carry on its work when Mr. Ben Ali put many of the party’s men in jail. Mr. Bouazzi of the Progressive Democratic Party said his organization had already planned to field an equal number of male and female candidates, noting that it has co-leaders, a man and a woman.

"The world is watching us. Tunisia today has an extraordinary image because its revolution happened peacefully, without weapons," Prime Minister Essebsi said, adding, quite pessimistic for other Arab revolutions : "The wind of freedom has blown through other countries... but we will be the only ones to succeed in putting into place a democratic government."