Tunisia's Ruling Party Vague On Setting Date for Elections

Article Summary
The Tunisian government continues to be ambiguous and inconsistent when it comes to setting a final date for the upcoming elections. Mounir Ben Mahmoud writes the ruling party is buying time to implement successful social programs so as to gain an advantage when the elections finally take place.

The head of the Tunisian interim government has repeatedly declared that the upcoming elections will be held between March and June, 2013. This decision was first announced by Hamadi Jebali upon his deliverance of a speech at the Davos Forum in late January 2012. However, apart from a few statements on the part of the government stating that National Constituent Assembly ought to decide on the elections’ issue, no official decision has been made to deliver on this promise.
In light of the static political situation in Tunisia, even the Higher Independent Body for Elections has yet to be established, even though four months has passed since the timetable for the elections were first announced. What exactly is going on, and why has the Ennahda Party remained so vague when it comes to deciding on a precise date for the elections?

A brief recounting of events might help us to understand the evolution that has taken place in the party’s positions. Initially, Ennahda agreed to the proposal of Professor Yadh Ben Achour, put forth on the eve of the October 23, 2011 elections, to limit the transitional phase to a single year. Eleven parties cosigned this proposal, and today, these parties make up a strong majority in the National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

What’s more, during the ANC meetings held to decide on the provisional organization of public offices, Ennahda and its two allies, Ettakatol and the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), refused to set a definitive date for the elections, eliciting outrage from the opposition and the media. This pushed Hamadi Jebali to settle the issue: first at the Davos Forum in January 2012, and then during his visit to Germany and Italy in March.

On April 26, 2011, during the submission of the supplementary budget law, the head of the interim government confirmed that the vote would take place between March and June 2013. He also promised to initiate two different projects regarding the elections and the media within two weeks. Jebali, however, reiterated once again that the decision regarding an exact date for the elections falls within the responsibilities of the ANC.

Meanwhile, the political counsel to the prime minister Lotfi Zitoun continued to spread the same false promises. On May 7, he appeared on the national television channel Watania 1, and insisted that the “vote will take place between March and June 2013, and that the exact date will be determined once the Constitution is drafted.”

This statement is full of ambiguities.

Is he really saying that he will leave us hanging on this meager promise until after the constitution is drafted?

What is preventing the ANC from setting a date for the elections, even if it has to delay them in case the constitution is not drafted in time?

What prevents the ANC form drawing up a road map for the Constitution drafting especially given that the raw material for such a road map is almost ready?

Given that the interim government is preoccupied with the implementation of its economic and social program, as well as with regional disturbances, it is clear that it is in no hurry to provide precise answers to the lingering problems. Such a stance does not generate much comfort when it comes to the elections.

One must also bear in mind that Hamadi Jebali’s promises are to a large extent dependent on international developments beyond his control. Many pundits believe that the head of the government is desperate to reassure international investors and attract tourists. He is well aware that socioeconomic gains for Tunisia will tip the balance in favor of his party, Ennahda, in the upcoming elections.

Another reason behind the government’s failure to focus its attention on fixing an election date is rooted in the crisis that has afflicted many parties along the Tunisian political spectrum, particularly the RDC and Ettakatol. These parties need more time to prepare before they toss their hat in the ring.

At the political level, only interim Prime Minister Caid Essebsi remained true to his words. He continues to demand that the government and the ANC set a precise date for the elections during the second phase of the period of democratic transition.

According to the Prime Minister, it is necessary that the authorities voice their opinions on the issue of the elections. "It is imperative that we fix dates in order to reassure the people that the transition to democracy is ongoing," insisted Beji. "Ignoring these basic questions is an insult to the intelligence of Tunisians," he noted.

Everyone remembers that one of the first decisions taken by the Caid Essebsi was the setting of the date of July 24, 2011 for the organization of the elections. But protests on the part of the Higher Independent Election Committee and its president, Kamel Jendoubi, who had rational arguments regarding material and technical reasons making it impossible to hold the elections on July 24, led to the setting of a new deadline on October 23, 2011. This change took place following consultations that lasted barely a week.

In other words, when there is political will, there is definitely a way. This is what seems to be missing the most in the current interim government, especially with regards to the elections, hence, the persistent blur.

As far as civil society is concerned, the Tunisian General Labor Union is the only body maintaining pressure on the government. But, its demands are rather focused on social issues, and they hardly affect those related to electoral deadlines.

Analysts and observers contend that it is high time for civil society to return to the forefront of Tunisian politics, to demand an immediate decision on the date of the elections. For the moment, however, political maneuverings on the part of various parties seems to be using civil society organizations as tools for their competing road maps for the country. 

Found in: tunisian elections, transitional period, national constituent assembly, interim government, hamadi jebali, ennahda party, ennahda, caid essebsi

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