rounds of the presidential election, seven million Tunisians were called on 6
October to choose the 217 representatives of their parliament. This is the
second parliamentary election since the 2014 adoption of Tunisia's
I had the
chance to be an international electoral observer with the International
Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in a
joint international Election Observation Mission.
deployed in the town of Zaghouan, the capital of Zaghouan Governorate. The
participation rate in the parliamentary elections was lower than that of the presidential
elections that approached 50 percent.
at around 41.3 percent on the national level, it reached 41 percent in
explain that given the importance of the political issues, this rate remains
modest. While it is true that Tunisians are deeply disappointed by the
socioeconomic outcomes that the transition has brought, it is also true that
their support to democracy is unhindered.
years since the revolution, the acculturation to democracy in the small North
African country is a reality. Tunisians have adjusted, adopted and acquired
democratic values, and voting in transparency is becoming a habit. Despite the
low turnout in these legislative elections, Tunisians have shown their
commitment to democratic practices and processes.
were highly engaged, as shown by all of the candidate list agents, domestic
observers, and media representatives that I met during election day. According
to the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), it accredited approximately
700 international observers, 17,000 domestic ones, and 95,000 candidate list
agents throughout the country.
have observed some minor isolated irregularities, I was impressed by the
respect, knowledge, and professionalism of the staff. In Zaghouan, elections
were particularly well-administered and took place in a calm and orderly
environment and were in line with the existing regulations.
the ridge of the Dorsal Mountains in the North of Tunisia, at approximately 60Km
south of the capital, Zaghouan has a population of 281,450 inhabitants. While
the governorate is among the least populated of Tunisia, it is also the most
educated with a rate of school enrolment that reached 95 percent in 2017.
has a large agricultural area of some 282 thousand hectares. Hence, the local
economy is based on agriculture that absorbs some 13 percent of the labour
rate in the Zaghouan governorate approaches a regional average of 20 percent,
with remarkable disparities between different sub-regional groups such as
Saouef, and En Nadhour. In these localities, the poverty rate reached 26
percent and 29 percent respectively against 13 percent and 18 percent in
Zaghouan and Ez Zriba.
to the National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate decreased
substantially in the region, going from 20 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in
2018. This is mainly due to the development of an industrial zone that until
November 2017, sheltered some 288 companies.
Due to this
relatively better economic situation, the governorate experienced less unrest
and fewer protests than other governorates in Tunisia. While in 2017 Zaghouan
residents joined the protests in solidarity with Kamour protestants – who
occupied an oil and gas facility in southern Tunisia to complain about the
marginalisation of their region and the lack of development projects – they did
not join national protests in 2016 or 2018 that were about the health and
to interviews conducted on the pre-election day with ISIE local authorities,
there were 137 polling centres and 257 polling stations for a total of 118,219
voters. For five seats in parliament, there was a total of 53 lists with 27
independent against 21 of the party lists.
No list has
managed to reach the electoral quota, which is around 9,800 votes. The five
seats were therefore distributed to the list that obtained the highest score.
Rached Ghannouchi's moderate Islamist party Ennahda arrived first with 6,304
votes; followed by M. Karoui’s Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) with 4,873 votes;
the secularist Nidaa Tounes followed with 2,272 votes; the Free Destourian
Party (PDL) with 2,012 votes; and finally the independent list "Al
Khir" [The Good] with 1,788 votes.
pre-election day, the global environment in Zaghouan was calm, except for some
campaigning with posters of legislative candidates still on some of the walls
in the vicinity of polling centres. This is not allowed by ISIE as it prescribes
a period of silence of 24 hours; otherwise, no violation was observed.
centres received all of the sensitive materials and were guarded by military
personnel who slept in the centres to protect the material. The keys were with
the president of each polling centre.
Election Day, I reached the first polling centre at 7:15am and I observed the
opening that started exactly at 8:00am. I spent 30 to 45 minutes in every
polling station, and I observed nine polling stations that were spread between
Zaghouan town, Hammam Ez Zriba, Ez Zriba village, and Jbel El Wast.
All of the
polling centres we visited were secured by the army or police who were
stationed outside as required by law. The environment was quiet and one could
feel that polling officials were very focused.
of procedural knowledge and professionalism was high. Everything was very well
organised: the ID and name of the voter were systematically checked on the
register that he or she would sign, the ballot was stamped in front of the
voter on its four corners, and the left-hand index was inked.
not allowed in the stations and officials enforced the law. The transparency of
the process was ensured throughout the day in all of the polling stations I
station, there were three polling officials, one president, and two aids.
Throughout the day, I noticed that a majority of polling officials were women
in comparison to the voters who were a majority of men. Accredited citizens and
local and international observers were present, and several times I was warmly
welcomed because I was the “Algerian sister.”
material (voter registries; ballots; ballot boxes; cardboard voting screens;
stamp; ink and minutes) was cautiously displayed. There was no critical
violation observed except for some minor issues that I noticed throughout the
day, such as the absence of voter lists in front of each polling station and
the inaccessibility of people with disabilities or those with mobility
confusion was noticeable among the elderly or people unfamiliar with what to
do, while some women insisted on having their spouses accompany them. Polling
officials explained the rules and voters abided by them; even very young
children were not allowed to enter with their parents.
stay with the polling station official who would indulge in their demands to
have their fingers inked. Practices such
as group voting or proxy voting (voting on behalf of someone else) are today
explained by a 48-year-old Tunisian woman, an employee of the Ministry of
Finance: “Today, things are different in Tunisia. Let me tell you a story. I
got married in 1995, and I came from Tunis to Zaghouan. All those years, I
never changed my residency. Until 2009, my mother used to call me at each
election to say that she voted on my behalf with my ID. Can you imagine? Today,
these kinds of practices are unimaginable. Rules are respected, and Tunisians
years after the uprising, Tunisians have shown that they learned, reproduced,
and know democratic values. They are actively working to enhance the quality of
their electoral process and citizen’s confidence in the polls.
should be a source of inspiration for many countries in the region and especially
for neighbouring North African countries.
Headline: Original: Tunisia's democracy: A source of inspiration for the Arab
Source: The Middle East Eye