On 23 October, the country that sparked the Arab Spring led the region from revolution to political self-determination. Over 90 percent of eligible Tunisian voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for the new 217-seat Constituent Assembly, a body that is tasked with both writing a new constitution and forming the new interim government.
While the voting process was praised by the international community, the election result – namely the fact that an Islamic political party won a plurality – has disquieted some Western observers. There is concern about the growing strength of Islamic political movements in Tunisia and their impact on domestic issues, such as human and women's rights.
However, the election results have painted a more complex picture and should be examined more closely to truly grasp the trajectory of the country.
Taking a closer look
Al-Nahda, the long-forbidden, self-proclaimed moderate Islamic political party, was the most well-organised political entity and garnered approximately 40 per cent of the vote. The party did not win enough votes to gain the necessary quorum to maintain full control of the constitutional process or form a government without coalition partners.
Al-Nahda's strong showing was not a surprise, but the weak performance of what many thought would be the largest secular party was. The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), a long-standing centre-left party, had positioned itself as the alternative to Al-Nahda but captured a mere five per cent of the vote, leaving many wondering whether its underperformance is a sign of a population that long had secularism imposed on them moving toward a more religious identity.
This may not be the case because overall secular parties received about 50 per cent of the vote, leaving the Assembly almost evenly split between secularists and Islamists.
By Aida Rehouma & Rabab Fayad
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