Polarization of the Presidential campaign deepens
The polemical exchange between presidential candidates Moncef Marzouki and Beji Caid Essebsi has continued, as the new election date of 21st December approaches. All gloves are off as the electoral contest turns into a row over who can save Tunisia and what will happen to the revolution. Marzouki has accused his opponents of returning to old regime tactics of using money and intimidation to win votes – “the same RCD who used to intimidate poor peasants in the countryside are now threatening ‘if you vote for Marzouki, you won’t touch your pension again’”. Meanwhile Essebsi accused his rival of having “no representativity” and Ennahdha of having broken the law, for which “in another country, we would have passed them to the guillotines”.
Opening of New Assembly of the People’s Representatives
Tunisians watched another transition unfold before their eyes on Tuesday 2nd December, with the opening of the new Assembly of the People’s Representatives, the country’s first democratically elected permanent legislative assembly. Mustapha Ben Jaafar, President of the National Constituent Assembly, opened the session and thanked the former assembly members for their work and for having achieved consensus on a new progressive constitution – he added, “but today we face the toughest stage, which is how we apply this constitution”. Indeed, there has already been one constitutional conflict over the constitutional provisions for appointing the new government (see our article here). The new Assembly will have the important task of establishing the new constitutional bodies mandated by the Constitution, including the Constitutional Court and constitutional commissions on media, elections, human rights, good governance and anti-corruption, and sustainable development.
Former Bourguiba Minister Elected President of Assembly
The Assembly reconvened to elected its President and Vice Presidents on December 4th. After discussions, it appears the largest parties reached agreement to elect one candidate from each of their parties. The vice president of Nidaa Tounes, Mohammed Nacer, was elected President of the Assembly with 176 votes out of 214 deputies present. Nacer, 80 years old, was Minister of Social Affairs in two governments under President Bourguiba and was Tunisia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva under Ben Ali. Abdel Fattah Mourou, vice president and co-founder of Ennahdha Party, and Faouzia Ben Fedha, of the Union Patriotique Libre party were voted Vice Presidents of the Assembly.
ISIE releases Detailed Voter Participation Rates
The ISIE (Higher Independent Elections Council) has releaseddetailed statisticson voter participation in the legislative and parliamentary elections. The breakdown shows the percentage of female and male voters in each voting district, and the age profile of voters across 7 age categories. The statistics appear to indicate an average youth turnout rate of 54% in the first round of the Presidential elections, which goes against the common perception of low youth engagement in the elections.However, it is not clear what definition ISIE uses of “youth” and this is not clearly indicated in the statistical table on its website.
No Improvement in Tunisia’s Corruption Rating
The NGO Transparency International has ranked Tunisia79th out of 175 countries in terms of perceptions of corruption and given it a score of 40 out of 100 in its Corruption Perception Index – a slight worsening compared to 2013 when the country received a score of 41. However, it should be noted that the rating is based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be – based on “the views of observers from around the world”. Given that information on mismanagement and corruption is much more widely available in Tunisia than before, given the new climate of freedom of expression and media, it could be that access to information is a new factor that increases perceptions of corruption. For example, the World Bank’s recent report which found that 21% of the economy was concentrated in the hands of Ben Ali and his associates is unlikely to have been published and widely circulated in the same way under the previous regime, which highlights comparative approaches to the survey.
Negotiations between Government and UGTT grind to a halt
Negotiations over increases in the salary of public employees have run into difficulties amidst accusations and counter-accusations. The Government claims its offer of 290 million dinars was turned down by the UGTT and that any agreement has to be authorized in the 2015 budget by the Legislative Assembly. The UGTT claims the government offer (which it says was 270 million and not 290 million dinars) is insufficient when divided amongst over 500,000 public employees and has demanded a public audit of government finances.
BBC used bananas as a starting point to explore the structural challenges in the Tunisian economy, which the World Bank’s top expert on Tunisia, Jean-Luc Bernasconi, summarized as “crony capitalism”. The Tunisian economy’s sluggishness is partly attributed to “tailor-made regulation and barriers” imposed by the former regime and its cronies to carve out privileges and rents for themselves. These barriers, such as the 36% duty on imported bananas, lead to high levels of smuggling estimated by the World Bank at $1.2bn (2.2 % of Tunisia’s annual GDP), lack of competition and productivity, and failing public banks, formerly used to prop up friends of the regime. The new Assembly is due to discuss a proposed law on financial reforms.
POMED has issued itsanalysis of the US administration’s 2015 budget provisions for assistance to the MENA region, criticizing US lack of serious commitment to Tunisia’s Transition. The report notes that US financial support to Tunisia in 2015 of $66 million is the same as 2014: “To many observers and supporters of Tunisia’s democratic transition, these levels of funding are shockingly low…this places Tunisia as the ninth largest recipient of bilateral U.S. assistance in the MENA region, exactly where it was in 2010 prior to its historic revolution…As one senior member of the democracy promotion community put it in an interview for this report, “Tunisia should be the priority. It’s the only country where investments are clearly yielding results.””
The report criticizes US assistance for being “ad hoc”, “piecemeal” and having no long-term commitment or vision: “There is a very widespread impression that the administration’s plan to support democracy and governance in Tunisia does not extend beyond elections expected to take place late this year…One administration official acknowledged that “there is an idea that Tunisia will get to elections later this year and then its transition will be over and the focus can be entirely on the economic side.”
The report recommends shifting towards a larger bilateral package for Tunisia: “The global or multicountry mechanisms by which funds have been mobilized do not offer the kind of stability or predictability that only a more significant bilateral assistance package can provide.”
Atlantic Council — What do the Presidential Elections Mean for Tunisia’s Future?
Adiscussion event with Hariri Center Nonresident Fellow Bassem Bouguerra, a security sector reform advocate and recent candidate for Tunisia’s parliament, and Jeffrey England , deputy regional director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the National Democratic Institute, who observed the parliamentary and presidential elections in Tunisia in the last two months.