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Situation Assessment 07 February, 2012

A Reading into the Meaning and Significance of Tunisia’s Election Results

Keyword

Aisha Al-Tayeb

Al-Tayeb has been a lecturer of sociology at the Advanced Institute of Human Sciences at the Tunis El-Manar University since 2000. She holds a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Tunis, and has worked as an expert in planning and management in the Arab Women Organization in Cairo, as well as a consultant for many regional and international bodies, including UNESCO, the Arab States Broadcasting Union, the World Bank, German Development Bank, and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. She is the advisor in charge of the countryside development projects for the Ministry of Agriculture in Tunisia, and has published extensively throughout the Arab world on a variety of topics, including the sociology of immigration and illegal immigration, the sociology of development and parallel economy, the sociology of work and enterprise, and the sociology of women and gender.

Introduction

The election of Tunisia's first constitutional assembly on March 25, 1956, only five days after independence, was a major shift in the history of independent Tunisia. The council took three years to release a version of the country's first constitution in 1959. Legislation was written for the creation of the state and crafting of its legal, political, cultural, and societal identity. Despite the fact that Tunisian society was fragile at that time, marred with high levels of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, and deteriorating living conditions, the election of the country's first constitutional assembly was a foundation via which Tunisia mended its national fabric and took flight to a better socio-economic future. Yet after more than sixty years, the course of events brought Tunisia back to the starting point on October 23, 2011, with another newly elected constitutional assembly that may signal, like its original predecessor, a break from the age of political despotism and socioeconomic deterioration, an age which culminated at the end of 2010 and brought to life the revolution of January 14, 2011.

Tunisia's political and intellectual arena after the revolution has seen a great debate on the leadership of political and social change, the materialization of the ideal model of leadership, and the proper way to manage affairs of the state and society. Though the early months of the revolution featured mixed choices and confusion on the adoption of the broad lines of the state's socio-political future, a consensus was achieved on going back to square one and starting a fresh phase with a newly elected constitutional assembly to shape the future and draft appropriate legislation.

Assuming that the Tunisian Revolution of January 2011 marked a rejection by segments of society of political despotism, social injustice, and mismanagement of the state's affairs which culminated on the last days of the former regime, can we say the results of the national Constitutional Assembly (CA) bear signs of different segments of society, within Tunisia and abroad, breaking from the essence of the sociological structure and the main, complex composition of Tunisian character? If we assume that the elections are not only emotional, but also rational, where are the boundaries of the effect of sentiments on the CA results? Where does reasonable, matured, and well-organized conduct start on the map of vote distribution across the different blocs, parties, and individuals?

We will attempt to utilize such questions to understand the sociology of why Tunisians voted on October 23, 2011, and what they have achieved from this election. Perhaps the violent social tension that hit the iconic Governorate of Sidi Bou Zeid after the nullification of the winning lists of the Popular Petition for Freedom, Justice, and Development party (PPFJD) in the October 28 elections, could be a key indicator of the complexity behind the explanation of results. Such social tension pushes for an objective analysis of the results of elections, a reading of its meanings, and an attempt to infer the significance of such elections. Besides, this tension refutes the simplified explanation of results and their connection with other factors.

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