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

Asian Stocks Plunge on Weak Factory Activity

Official survey finds China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in three years More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs