Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tunisians Start Voting

The death of Moammar Qadhafi should not crown out awareness of the fact that today is the day Tunisians start voting:
"Dozens of Tunisians who live in Egypt flocked to the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo on Thursday to cast their votes in the election for a constituent assembly that will be responsible for drafting a new constitution.

"The voters expressed joy, and some noted that it was the first time in their lives to share in an electoral process. One of the women was so moved by the event that she cried while casting her vote...

"The constituent assembly election is Tunisia’s first free election held in 23 years, and follows the ouster of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali late last year."

Voting in Tunisia takes place Sunday. The Islamist Nahda party is expected to win the largest share of votes, but probably not a majority of the parliement. Admittedly writing from Pennsylvania, I don't see that as a problem, especially if the Nahda is as close in philosophy to Turkey's AKP as some argue. It certainly shouldn't be confused with the salafi vigilantes active on Tunisia's streets. What matters most, however, is simply the fact that Tunisians will vote, and thereby take up a share in deciding their own political future. Elections produce winners and losers, and what matters in transitional periods like this is the willingness of all parties to agree on rules for political competition and to respect the results. Erik Churchill lays out what is at stake:
"The success of Sunday's election will be judged first and foremost on whether Tunisia will continue with its peaceful transition to democracy. While most observers expect calm, a slight disruption, especially if centered around the fairness of the polls, could quickly degenerate into large disturbances. Secondly, a strong turnout will show the legitimacy and support of Tunisians for the democratic process. The weakness of the voter registration drive gives cause for concern that Tunisians will not show up on Sunday, potentially delegitimizing the results. Thirdly, Sunday's vote will test whether the government will be able to accept the result of Ennahdha's presumed victory. A result of less than 20 percent could raise calls that the voting was rigged, while an absolute majority by Ennahdha could spark protests from secular groups. This is known as the Algerian scenario, after the Islamist victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in the country's 1991 elections, which sparked a backlash from military regime and ultimately resulted in civil war.

"Finally, despite foreign and domestic observers and the demonstrated competence of the electoral commission, many Tunisians have expressed doubts that the elections will be truly free and fair. Despite all evidence to the contrary, it is commonplace to hear arguments that the outcome has been predetermined by the West. If Sunday's elections dispel these rumors, Tunisians will not look at this election as the result of their uprising, but rather, the first step in the process of controlling their destiny as an independent, democratic country."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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