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
    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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora