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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid