Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tunisia: The Tunisian Exception - Limits and Success of Consensus

Source: International Crisis Group

To prevent a rerun of last year’s political crisis, Tunisia needs far-sighted political precautions that can preserve the national compromise beyond the 2014 elections.

In its latest briefing, The Tunisian Exception: Limits and Success of Consensus, the International Crisis Group examines Tunisia’s way out of the political crisis that paralysed it for much of 2013 and outlines measures to preserve a still fragile consensus. In January, after months of heightened tension, political forces agreed on a technocratic caretaker government and a new constitution. But these gains could be squandered unless all parties ensure that any new government – most immediately, that resulting from legislative and presidential elections later this year – operate on the basis of national consensus and cross-partisan support. This is particularly the case as the regional environment, characterised by continuing polarisation and violence in Egypt and Libya, makes Tunisia’s transition all the more difficult.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Tunisia escaped last year’s crisis thanks to a variety of factors including strong civil society engagement, international involvement and widespread fear that the country could sink into the extreme polarisation seen in Egypt. But electoral competition and unresolved disagreements, most notably over the neutrality of the civil service, threaten to reignite the crisis.
  • The current political consensus builds on a power-sharing arrangement between the two largest political parties, the Islamist An-Nahda and its secular opponent Nida Tounes. But the coming elections could produce a majority sufficient for one to exclude the other, possibly tempting the loser to question the elections. All parties should therefore agree in advance on minimum guarantees against a “winner-takes-all” approach and set certain objectives for the next government, notably with regard to economic and security policy.
  • The electoral commission (ISIE2 – Instance supérieure indépendante pour les élections) has a key role in enhancing the polls’ credibility and raising voter turnout. The caretaker government, with the help of its international partners, should make sure ISIE2 has all the logistical and financial help it needs to organise voter outreach campaigns and elections, and that citizens acknowledge it as neutral.
“A balanced coalition of Islamist and secularist forces is far from certain” says Michaël Ayari, Tunisia Senior Analyst. “All parties should consider unexpected scenarios. They should agree on basic rules of governance, define limitations to the power of the electoral winners and provide assurances for the losers”.

“Tunisia’s major political forces should preserve the spirit of compromise that helped resolve the last crisis”, says Issandr El Amrani, North Africa Project Director. “Such a compromise must go beyond power-sharing deals between the main political camps. All parties must show they are committed to the common good, even in the midst of political competition”.