May 27, 2011

Tunisia’s transition to self-governance

    Friday, May 27, 2011   No comments

Nearly six months after igniting the wave of protest across the Arab world, Tunisia is still struggling to schedule the first vote that would elect a Constituency Assembly (majlis ta’sisi).

After the fall of the regime of Ben Ali, the interim president designated July 24, 2011 to be the date on which Tunisians would elect the first body that will draft a new constitution. A new Independent Election Committee was also appointed to oversee this crucial event.

On May 26, members of the Election Committee met with representatives of the political parties and proposed postponing the elections to October 16. The Committee and the smaller parties contended that holding the elections on July 24 “would be impossible… The time would not be enough to prepare all that is necessary for transparent elections.” Representative of other parties argued that the decision is “political, not operational," and insisted that the elections be held as soon as possible citing fear of “political instability and insecurity."

Last week, the interim government indicated that it will make available all resources so that the elections are held on time. The Committee’s recommendation would need the approval of the government to be formally adopted.

The interim government has a number of options: adopt the Committee’s recommendation as is, designate a new date before the recommended date and after the July 24 date, or replace the current committee with a new one and offer it the same or a new timeline and a new mandate. It could also keep the July 24 date and force this Committee to meet that deadline.

It is unlikely that registering about five million voters (total population is less than 11 million) and ensuring their safety during one or two days of casting ballets in a tiny country (almost the size of Iowa) would require more time. It is likely that the committee is taking its cues from the political parties not from the people; a people that succeeded in bringing down a dictator in 18 days is surely capable of registering to vote and casting that vote even in the most threatening of conditions.

Ultimately, it is in the interest of Tunisians and the world community that Tunisia peacefully, judiciously, and timely transition into democratic rule. The UN and other friendly nations could assist the Tunisian authorities fund and manage these elections. The world owes them this much given the sacrifices they endured and the potential they unlocked. These elections will stabilize the country and offer the rest of the Arab world hope. Tunisia was an example of peaceful revolutions in the face of brutal tyranny; it should be supported to be an example of preserving the values of the revolution chief amongst them, respect for human dignity for which many Tunisians lost their lives.


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