Tunisia will be having its Constituent Assembly- a body set up to write the constitution and essentially laying the groundwork for the new government of the post-Ben Ali era. There has been campaigning that wrapped up today before the polls open on the 23rd.
The two largest parties (by election campaigning at least) are al-Nadha, the right-wing religious-based party and the Progressive Democratic Party. As far as analysis can see al-Nadha can expect to get the most votes, but probably not a majority. Other polling indicates it could be closer than that.
This would be the first of the 'Arab Spring' nations to get an election after the overthrow of their dictator- and of course Tunisia was the nation where all this began anyways. How the election itself is conducted and the voting will be something other nations are watching.
Turnout is another matter. There is cynicism and apathy towards the whole situation as it is, since people are not sure if anything will really change from Ben Ali's time and whether the state apparatus that Ben Ali constructed can actually be done away with. A lot of Tunisians don't seem to feel strongly for any of the parties involved.
The time after Ben Ali's overthrow has been a back and forth between the military and the civil groups- though not to the scale that has been seen in Egypt. During this period the trade unions also held a share of influence in the process, and they can be expected to show themselves again during the elections.
A rough profile of the different groups...
Al-Nahda (Renaissance): A conservative party that bases itself in religious thought. Ben Ali had claimed it was an Islamist outfit hellbent on imposing Taliban-style rule while its leadership claimed it was more along the lines of parties such as Turkey's ruling AKP. The leader of the party, Rashid Ghannouchi, exiled himself to Europe after being released from jail in 1988 and returned following the fall of Ben Ali. The ban on the party was lifted by the interim government following the overthrow of Ben Ali, and even attempted to invite al-Nahda into government (probably in an attempt to diffuse the continuing unrest with the rest of Ben Ali's cronies still in power)- which it refused
Progressive Democratic Party: A centre-left liberal outfit that unlike al-Nahda wasn't banned but whose activities were severely curtailed during the Ben Ali period, having been able to do little against the dominance of Ben Ali's RCD like other parties in that time. The leader Ahmed Chebbi was one of figures of the internal 'opposition' to Ben Ali and the RCD.
Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL/ Ettakatol) : Another centre-left party, more rooted in social democracy that like the PDP was 'tolerated' in Tunisia before the overthrow of Ben Ali but could not do much. It has less 'support' than the above.
Tunisian Workers' Communist Party (PCOT): This party was banned until the overthrow of Ben Ali. In the aftermath of the revolution the interim government lifted the ban on PCOT attempted to invite the party into the government as it did with al-Nahda. It also refused this offer.
Congress for the Republic: Another centre-left group, can't tell whether it's liberal or social democratic. This party was banned shortly after its foundation in 2002 after the Ben Ali government rebuked it for its openly anti-establishment position.
There are other factions I might add in later but these appear to be the ones with the most clout.
7th December 2003
I wouldn't expect too much from these elections; the country is used to a dictatorship and the education levels which are the base for a western-style democracy aren't quite there yet. But I hope some progress will be made towards a democratic government.
Recently I watched an election advertisement where someone put up a big poster for Ben Ali, below that was another poster which reminded people that dictatorship can return if they don't vote. Some outraged people destroyed the Ben Ali poster and then got the read the real message. So it looks like those guys are learning the trade quickly.
I think the pressing issue really is the economic condition, as it was when Ben Ali was tossed out. With the upheaval as it was and the impacts on Tunisia's international trade links and credit, it has made the economy difficult to manage for them. This goes everywhere from jobs to basic foodstuffs.
Those who are particularly hit hard by this as such may not hold much faith in the current political scene in rectifying this, considering the way the interim government has been. The media in the west has naturally focused a lot on the party's positions on the role of religion and secularism, but at the end of the day most of these people are more concerned with who'll get the economy up and running again.
As far as the polls go we should get some initial results later, but the Tunisian interim president has promised he will step down to who ever comes out of the Constituent Assembly with power to form the first government.
Elections seemed to have proceeded smoothly, no significant problems or violence. Can't say anything about whether or not it went 'fairly' but there doesn't seem to be much noise about that beyond the usual claims.
There is also polling for Tunisians who live outside the country, with good turnout in stations in Paris, Marseilles, Germany and Italy.
Initial polling data confirms what pre-vote polls laid out, giving Al-Nahda a plurality of votes, leading that party to claim 'victory'. This is after the release of polling data concerning 87 seats which has given Al-Nahda 37 of those, which the party is extrapolating to other districts as an overall trend.
With regards to the other parties, the Progressive Democratic Party did worse than expected, and has conceded defeat, having only secured 5 seats from this initial batch. The two parties after al-Nahda is the Congress Party for the Republic and FDTL/Ettakatol got 14 and 10 respectively. It will be those two more than likely al-Nahda will have to turn to in order to make an agreement when writing the country's constitution.
A surprise party was the 'Aridha Chaabia', a party lead by an independent political figure that had captured 11 seats. Five other smaller parties, the Communists, the Initiative (formed from members of the RCD, Ben Ali's party), the Democratic Modernist Pole, and two other groups got a seat each. Independents have three seats.
Turn out is estimated at somewhere 80%-90%. There was no violence and observers report no irregularities.
10th August 2004
Results are in:
an-Nahda (Moderate Islamist) - 90 Congress for the Republic (Secular center-left) - 30 Ettakatol (Social Democratic) - 21 Aridha Chaabia (Populist, supposed old regime ties) - 19 PDP (Liberal) - 17 Initiative (Ben Ali's former cronies) - 5
Should be interesting as these are the guys that are going to draft the constitution and form the government. The leading party, an-Nahda, wants a parliamentary system with a strong prime minister, while the second largest party, Congress for the Republic, want more of a semi-presidential system like that in France. Also, the roll of Islam in the new constitution is going to be a very big point of contention.
Unfortunately after results were reported some violence broke out in Sidi Bouzid (which is the same place where Arab Spring began). The issue blew out after Aridha Chaabia/ Popular List found themselves disqualified after allegations of financial irregularities, and thus with it a number of seats cancelled.
Aridha Chaabia's supporters feel that they were singled out because of some of their members for suspected having actual connection to that regime, not for their financial issues.