Tunisia is preparing to hold legislative and presidential elections this fall, on October 26 and November 23 respectively, after the Constituent Assembly (ANC) approved the timetable this week. A presidential run-off, if needed, will be held on December 28. The first step: voter registration, which began on Monday.
The elections will cap off a bumpy year that saw the leading Islamist party Ennahda step down in January after protracted negotiations and hand over power to an interim, technocratic government headed by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, amid the ongoing threat of Islamist terrorism. Under the current provisional government relative calm has returned to the country, isolated skirmishes with militants notwithstanding. Gone are the mass street rallies that marked Ennahda’s turbulent tenure, especially in the wake of the assassinations of two leading secular politicians.
However, some political parties are arguing that Jomaa’s administration is moving too fast, and that the adopted election timeline is too narrow and too ambitious. Yet, the haste in Tunis is understandable. Tunisia’s leaders hope that the dual elections will ensure – finally – a lasting and democratic transition of power four years after the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and mark a definitive end to the political stalemate that plagued the country for much of 2013. A successful, transparent ballot would also offer a critical sign of stability to reassure uneasy foreign investors and tourists.
VISUAL CONTEXT: 2011 parliamentary elections
Already, Tunisia’s political elite is preparing for the ballots. A comeback by Ennahda, which holds the majority of the ANC seats, is possible, especially after its push to hold legislative elections before the presidential vote succeeded. (The opposition wanted the reverse order, believing it has a better chance of winning the presidential election.) Nonetheless, still reeling from its disastrous performance in office, not to mention the spectacular downfall of its Muslim Brotherhood counterpart in Egypt, Ennahda is reportedly hoping to form a coalition that would include even its secular opponents, and field a consensus candidate.
Though, the opposition looks to be resistant to such a compromise. Notably the country’s main secular party Nida Tounes, which is led by a member of Tunisia’s old guard, Beji Caid Essebsi – a detail that may, according to The Economist, resonate among voters nostalgic for “the more orderly albeit authoritarian era of the past.” Nida Tounes has made much of its pro-business platform in a smart nod to Tunisia’s limping economy and vast army of unemployed workers, particularly youths. But faced with a well-oiled political machine like Ennahda, amid growing frustration with the political status quo and financial instability, can Tunisia’s nascent opposition make inroads? Perhaps. Look for Essebsi to lead the charge.