Since the October 23, 2011 elections, we have talked and talked about almost everything: the future constitution and Article 1, the law on the provisional organization of government assets, transitional justice, the martyrs and the wounded of the revolution and the security, social and economic problems. But until now nobody has raised the two critical issues that are related to Tunisia’s future: the country’s future political and electoral systems.
It is only when these two issues have been settled that the various political forces and the Tunisian people will know what their political future will be like, and if there will be a peaceful transfer of power that prevents hegemony by any one party.
But it took almost nine months before they handed us a fait accompli of the worst kind. The committee within the National Constituent Assembly that is tasked with determining the relationship between the executive and legislative branches — i.e., the future political system — voted for the adoption of a parliamentary system. It was not even known that this committee had been holding meetings and discussing such an issue.
One gets the impression that everything was done in secret. As usual, the Ennahda-dominated government gives only bits and pieces of information in a way that maintains ambiguity. It is a trial balloon intended to test public opinion. The balloon is routinely set high enough to allow for subsequent concessions in order to give the impression that the Islamist party is in search of consensus.
It is an insidious, even Machiavellian practice designed to project a democratic image while the reality is the opposite. Ultimately, Ennahda gets to pass all of its initiatives, or more than 90% of them, through this voting mechanism.
Voting is certainly democratic. But when you are certain that you have the vote secured, then voting becomes simply the imposition of the majority’s will on the minority, especially as Tunisia is in a transitional and constitutional-building phase. During such a phase, it is necessary to work for the interest of the nation and the Tunisian people, and not for the interest of a relative majority that behaves as if it will stay a majority forever.
Moreover, this announcement to vote in favor of a parliamentary system comes at a delicate phase in Tunisian history. A period when all of public opinion is preoccupied with the institutional crisis between the executive branch’s president and prime minister.
Without invoking the famous conspiracy theory by assuming that a diversionary tactic was employed to get this vital plan passed, it is clear that no worthy media coverage was dedicated to the event.
Indeed, it happened so discreetly that few official reactions have been recorded thus far. Noomane Fehri, elected member in Tunisia’s parliament, was one of the few voices to denounce the fact that the vote was not conducted in the presence of all of the committee’s members, including its president. He also accused Ennahda of trying to force a parliamentary system without a spirit of finding consensus.
The Islamist party in power has always said it favored a parliamentary system for the simple reason that it firmly believes that the country’s political landscape would allow it to win a comfortable majority in the legislative elections, thus enabling the party to have a free hand in the management of state affairs.
On the other hand, the Troika, outrageously dominated by Ennahda, is now giving us a preview of what political life in Tunisia would look like if a parliamentary system is adopted. Analysts believe a parliamentary system would not be best for Tunisia, which has barely begun its democratic experience.
Of course, we must not go back to a presidential system of the kind that we have lived with for 55 years either, considering the possible risk of such a system producing a dictator. We should avoid the extremes and rather consider a balanced system that would prevent excessive concentration of power at one of the two poles.
Since everything is connected, the electoral system will be the decisive factor in determining the future political landscape. For a moment, let us imagine a winner-take-all system where the victorious list receives all of a district’s available seats. This could produce a tidal wave that leads to only having a single political party.
With a minimum of logical reasoning, Ennahda would have never tried to force a vote that favors the parliamentary system if it was not certain that it will win in the general elections. This raises the question of which electoral law should be adopted. This law will be so important that all of society’s political — and even civil — components must be involved in discussing it. This is in order for us to reach a true consensus that prevents a possible takeover of the country’s political life by a single party—that is, unless the advent of the new party, Call of Tunisia, can thwart Ennahda’s aims. In fact, all indications show that things have changed. How else can we explain the panic by Ennahda members, even those in government? They have not stopped their bullying and debasement of the Call of Tunisia or their unethical assaults on its leader, Beji Caid Essebsi.
It is clear that the alarm bell has been set off. The various political players are now aware that the party in power wishes to impose possible scenarios on them by using unorthodox methods.