Critical observation has been of the utmost importance in this first test of democratic elections, and national and foreign observers as well as journalists and media professionals have undertaken this task, watching, documenting, and reporting on the events of the day throughout the country. The next step will be to assemble all of these notes and testimonies and results to discern whether the inconsistencies and irregularities are a few, apparently isolated or arbitrary occurrences or if they are prevalent enough to indicate otherwise.
In Tunisia, public opinion has often questioned the authenticity of foreign initiatives to facilitate the country’s transition to democracy, based largely on skepticism of, for instance, the US’ silence/complicity in (a lack of truly democratic) political processes that kept Ben Ali in power for over two decades. Shortly after the President’s fled the country in January 2011, questions posed during a press conference at the US Embassy in Tunis on 21 February expressed as much; one Tunisian journalist explicitly asked, «How can we trust you?»
Le manque de transparence d’Ennahdha autour de son accord avec Burson-Marsteller suscite des soupçons inévitables sur la transaction qui, au contraire d’encourager des «élections libres et équitables en Tunisie», pourrait, en fait, les miner. L’ambiguïté autour de l’aspect financier de la transaction, (“Frais à déterminer à une date ultérieure,” lit-on dans le document d’enregistrement officiel) est un sujet de préoccupation particulier, après la mauvaise gestion financière des partis, lors des dernières élections. En effet, certaines questions s’imposent : qui a financé ce projet ? De quel fond sera-t-il financé ? Quelles sont les modalités de paiement ?
Ennahdha’s lack of transparency around its agreement with Burson-Mersteller gives rise to inevitable suspicion that the transaction, contrary to encouraging «free and fair elections in Tunisia» might in fact undermine them. Ambiguity around the financial aspect of the deal (“Fees and expenses to be determined at a later date,” reads the official registration document) is a particular concern after political parties’ financial mismanagement in past elections.
Bien que des propositions soient avancées par les partis, quant à la relance économique, elles semblent se dissocier de leurs politiques générales, mais surtout de leurs discours, où une forme de « langage diplomatique » et un optimisme sans fondement sont présentés, afin de favoriser l’idée de « Start up démocratique » incitant les investisseurs étrangers à venir en Tunisie.
In this newest publication, World Bank economists Antonio Nucifora and Bob Rijkers reiterate this background of corruption, characterized by «limited competition and active state intervention» and of which enduring vestiges are manifest in «three dualisms, namely the onshore-offshore division, the dichotomy between the coast and the interior, and the segmentation of the labor market»– to explain the present economic crisis that is its legacy.
Even if it is for the lack of up-to-date and relevant data produced and diffused by Tunisian government institutions, that Tunisian media draws from foreign mainstream reports without questioning the validity of the data, analysis, or sources used–reporting through the grapevine, as it were–is a practice that diminishes rather than enhances the quality of dialogue on current issues. Noteworthy, for example, is the number of news agencies that have referenced the recent CNN International study and imprecisely or incorrectly attributed it to the Washington-based non-profit Pew Research Center.
What Euchi demonstrates in The Disappointment of the Revolution is the falling short of an effective transitional justice process, a degredation of standards since 2011 that has witnessed the successive criminalization of former regime officials to their pardoning, to the concession of their right to engage in politics. Those who were initially seen as “enemies” of the state have gradually come to be recognized as political equals, now rivals now allies as per the momentary needs of political parties vying for electoral ground.
As much as Tunisia’s initial, post-independence, political transition was influenced by the extent and nature of economic support from the West, the success of the country’s waning post-revolution «democratic transition» is significantly impacted by the same US and EU powers. A misnomer that diminishes the scope and complexity of international alliances and enmities that it encompasses, the Arab-Israeli conflict bears greatly upon Tunisia’s relations with Western democracies, the primary prospective investors and financial backers of political transition in Tunisia for the past half century.
The adoption of a charter signifying convergence on the ‘rules of the game,’ is precisely the sort of written agreement recommended by the International Crisis Group for continued, limited consensus that distinguishes healthy political party competition from enmity spurred by the prioritization of personal/partisan gain and power.
In Tunisia, there is a great deal of skepticism regarding the competency and «responsible governance» of the interim government in juxtaposition with Tunisia’s international image as the ‘sole democracy in the Arab world’ as citizens sense that technocrats and politicians are incapable of rising above their own political and electoral trajectories to synchronise a unified, coordinated national response to aggression that is tantamount to a Palestinian holocaust.
The interim government’s approach to addressing terrorism is a continual source of public discontentment, and heightened security issues have directly influenced citizenry’s reticence to participate in political processes, according to several La Presse and Nawaat reports. On the same day that the Ministry of National Defense reported on the Jebel Ouergha explosion, the High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE) announced the markedly low turnout for voter registration.
Taking an inventory of reports over the past two weeks that convey the clamor and chaos of Tunisia’s party politics gearing up for elections in October, one can appreciate a newfound irony in the attribution of—and the granting of an award for—’consensus’ to the Ennahda (or, for that matter, any other political) party.
Even consequential economic woes pale slightly as the announcement of fixed election dates has solidified the finite temporality of transition, the imminent fork in the road and the uncertainty of the path towards which the ‘consensus’-driven country is steering—that of gradual progression through reform or stagnancy and gradual regression?
As much as instruments to monitor and ensure transparency and the constitutional operation of state powers and processes, the HAICA and the ISIE are, just several months into their roles, equally accountable for their own transparency and constitutional operation. The next six months will not only measure their competency and capacity to fulfill this dual responsability but will more generally decide the nature and successfulness of elections and the direction of the country through and beyond the transition period.
Lawyers, academics, politicians, civil society, more than one-hundred fifty organizations, Tunisians and internationals were part of the movement to FreeAzyz Amami and Sabri Ben Mlouka: democratic transition demands that the misuse of judicial power inherent in police state be replaced by the precedence of an independent justice.
If its delivery is distinctive, the overwhelming message from public figures and ordinary citizens is the same: the gravity of the economic crisis—whether the exacerbated image of a political media campaign or an accurate portrayal of the country’s disequilibrium— is such that the Prime Minister has been called upon to transcend the drawn-out bickering of a politicized National Economic Dialogue, to take actions in measure with the severity of the situation that he has expounded in his discourse and communication with Tunisia and the international community, to devise a roadmap that sets out long-term, sweeping structural reforms.