News / Africa

Tunisians Actively Contemplating Democratic Elections in October

People chant slogans during a demonstration held after a group of individuals attacked the CinemAfricArt building to protest a controversial film called 'No God, No Master,' in Tunis, July 7, 2011
People chant slogans during a demonstration held after a group of individuals attacked the CinemAfricArt building to protest a controversial film called 'No God, No Master,' in Tunis, July 7, 2011

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Lisa Bryant

The North African country of Tunisia was to have held its first ever democratic elections this month. The vote has been delayed until October, as authorities finalize a process that experts hope may become a prototype for future Arab democracies. But from the capital Tunis, where this correspondent recently visited for VOA, Tunisians are bewildered by a wide open political playing field.

The sounds of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution have faded. Instead of clashing with riot police, young men and a few woman gather in sidewalk cafes in the capital Tunis on summer evenings, drinking tea and puffing on water pipes.

There remain some reminders of January 14 - the day when a massive, popular uprising ousted Tunisia's long-time leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali - like the tanks and barbed wire flanking the interior ministry on the main Habib Bourguiba Boulevard.

Moving past Ben Ali

Two trials in Tunis already have sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to a total of 50 years in prison on charges ranging from drug smuggling to embezzlement. Government efforts to extradite him from Saudi Arabia so far have failed.

But today, this North African country is looking ahead to its first-ever democratic elections, scheduled for October 23.

More than 90 parties are running for a seat in the so-called Constituent Assembly, tasked to draft a new constitution and set parliamentary and presidential elections. One of them is the tiny Popular Unity Party, or PUP - located next to a dentist's office on the second floor of a shabby apartment building.

Many parties vying for position

Secretary General Hassine Hammami describes PUP's platform. The party favors a secular government, press freedom and a Socialist economy.

But Hammami said he also is worried about where Tunisia is heading. Just how much power will the new Constituent Assembly have, and how long will it last?

Hammami isn't the only one with questions. University student Sami Ben Jaafar, strolling downtown with his girlfriend on a recent afternoon, said Tunisians don't know what's going on.

Information gap as election looms

Jaafar said there's a huge lack of information about the many political parties and platforms... and the election is just over three months away.

In fact, more than half of all Tunisians have no idea about any of the parties vying for a place in the assembly. That's according to a survey by local polling agency ISTIS. General Director Hosni Nemsia said the ISTIS poll also shows Tunisians are interested in politics. After years of stifling, one-party rule, they want to be involved in shaping the country's future. Suddenly everybody wants a voice.

Thabet Graia (R) and Talel Aleli (L), both 32, singing in the Tunis suburb of Sidi Bou Said.
Thabet Graia (R) and Talel Aleli (L), both 32, singing in the Tunis suburb of Sidi Bou Said.

In the seaside suburb of Sidi Bou Said, Thabet Graia and Talel Aleli are expressing themselves through their music.

 

Graia said their folk group Echola - or flame in Arabic - sings about liberty and political injustice. Tunisia has had a political revolution, he said, and now it's time for a cultural one.

Secular vs. political Islam

The party that has captured national attention, and some concern, is the moderate Islamist Ennahda. Banned for two decades under Ben Ali, the party is now legal, with two gleaming new offices in Tunis. Senior members like Zied Daouetli, who spent 14 years in prison under Ben Ali, now juggle public meetings and interviews with reporters.

Daouetli said Ennahda's role model is Turkey under the country's popular Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But the role of political Islam is deepening tensions in a country that has long championed women's rights and opted for secular, western-style politics.

Last week, hundreds of people demonstrated in Tunis and the southern city of Sousse to denounce the rise of Islamism. The rallies came after members of a banned Salafist Muslim party attacked a cinema showing movie called "No God, No Master."

Twenty-year-old Mahmoud Abdellewi, who works in a tourist store in Tunis' old medina, said the one party he won't vote for in October is Ennahda.

"Because I hate it. They did many things bad in the beginning, from many years ago," he said.

But many Tunisians like Ennahda - including those who aren't very religious. One of the party's biggest strengths, said Paris-based analyst Mansouria Mokhefi, is that it's perceived as untarnished by the years of political corruption under Ben Ali.

Many choices amid uncertainty

Mokhefi, Middle East and North Africa program director at the French Institute of International Relations, said whether Ennahda is as moderate as it appears remains to be seen. But democracy will give Tunisians a choice. If don't like the party, she said, they can vote it out of power.

Despite the political uncertainty - and scattered pockets of fitful violence - many people in Tunisia are hopeful about the future.

Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League, believes the country is experiencing the natural growing pains of any new democracy.

Trifi said that after years of a ferocious dictatorship, Tunisians are getting used to political life and freewheeling debate. The dizzying array of political parties is just one way they are expressing themselves.

Where is Tunisia going? Nobody is quite sure. But all the indications, analyst Mokhefi said, are pointing in the right direction.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid