After elections, what will Tunisia's government look like?

With the formation of Tunisian democracy steadily progressing, the major decision that lies ahead is the formation of the government that will take over: Will there be a clear majority of one party and an opposition, or a coalition, and what will this decision mean for the country?

al-monitor Nidaa Tunis supporters hold pictures of Beji Caid Essebi and shout slogans as they celebrate after Essebsi won the country's first free presidential election, in Tunis, Dec. 22, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

Topics covered

tunisia, politics, nidaa tunis, government formation, ennahda

Dec 29, 2014

Tunisia is about to witness important developments that will set the stage for the country’s political future. After the successful presidential elections, and with the peaceful electoral environment, Tunisia is getting ready to move from the stage of democratic transition to democratic consolidation. This will make democracy the only game in the country.

The formation of the new government is the first step that will ensure that Tunisia has moved to the stage of democratic consolidation. In the long run, this event will determine the nature of the new political system in light of the relations between the political blocs and parties in the country, especially the Nidaa Tunis Party and Ennahda. Nidaa Tunis guaranteed the biggest number of parliamentary seats in the general elections, while Ennahda came in second place. Two possible models for relations between Nidaa Tunis and Ennahda are lurking on the horizon:

The first model is the consensual one. Under this model, the two parties would form a huge political alliance and a new government that might include, apart from ministers from both parties in prominent ministries, independent ministers or even ministers from other small parties. In this government, the two parties will play the vital role and, naturally, they will put the ministerial statement together and determine the state’s priorities and the common choices for both of them.

Reaching an agreement over the distribution of governmental positions and the ministerial statement draft might not be easy, knowing that the parties did not emerge out of the blue. In fact, they represent an extension of previous conflicts from the rules of Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and even as far back as the period of French colonialism.

These conflicts were intense and had ethnic, religious and social dimensions that were different than those in other Arab states. Nevertheless, Tunisia naturally is a stage for conflicts and contradictions, like the tensions which surface occasionally between the inhabitants of the south and the coast, between the people influenced by the Francophone culture and those influenced by the Arab culture, between the city inhabitants and the countryside inhabitants, between the rich and the low-income people and between the different generations.

These differences are not so strong to affect the public life and force themselves into the political course of events, as is the case in some Arab states. These differences and factors, despite their importance, are not an obstacle that rules out the possibility of forming a ruling coalition that joins both parties. In fact, the parties have things in common — like their vision toward the economic development and the role of the state in as well as their interest in education and learning, which was given attention by Bourguiba’s state and the general inclinations of Ennahda. The two parties also care for stability, natural and progressive development and distancing Tunisia from extremist and risky policies. This last factor constitutes an important motive for both parties to respond to the calls for cooperation between them and to seek to please the Tunisian public, which appreciates this call. Tunisians are well aware that steering clear of extremism and violence and going after stability will hugely contribute to solving the country’s exacerbating economic and social problems.

The second model is the one with a simple majority. Opting for this model necessitates competition between Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis over alliances that allow either of them to form a coalition government. Under the current circumstances, Nidaa Tunis seems to have the biggest chance in forming such an alliance, as it has the biggest number of parliamentary seats. This factor will play a decisive role in forming parliamentary and political alliances. Moreover, the public voiced support for Nidaa Tunis in the presidential elections with a significant majority. Therefore, it will be difficult for Ennahda to form a parliamentary alliance that takes away the governmental race from Nidaa Tunis. Knowing Ennahda’s political stances, it will probably opt for the leadership of the parliamentary opposition if the attempts for a consensual government fail.

Evidently, the majority party government will have a larger margin of freedom in setting its priorities and options, compared to a consensual government. Although it won’t be a one-party government and will have partners, there is a difference between a partnership among equally weighty parties in the parliament, like Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis, and a partnership between a main party and other parties that have a limited number of MPs. Such partnership would not harm these less influential parties and would not undermine their political and moral stance. The number of Free Democratic Party MPs in Germany was small compared to the two other main parties — the Socialist Party and the Democratic Christian Party. However, the Free Democratic Party played an important role in German politics between the 1970s and the 1990s, especially with the high esteem that its leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher received. Small allied parties can enjoy a similar position in Tunisian political life.

Nevertheless, most of the times, the largest party will be able to play the big brother role in its relationship with other allied parties that have less parliamentary seats. This relationship may give the majority party the privilege of expediting the government’s work and completing projects, which is something that consensual governments cannot necessarily do.

The majority model will not provide the same stability that its consensual counterpart would ensure. However, the majority model would set the appropriate stage for an effective parliamentary opposition and for the parliament to carry out its supervisory role as required. In the majority model, the coalition governments that are making great efforts to serve the citizens would have less chances to turn into quotas governments that do their best to serve the ruling elite and fulfill their selfish desires. In the end, the success of the emerging democracy political experience, like the one in Tunisia, largely depends on the ruling elite having appropriate leadership and moral virtues.

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