mardi 1 novembre 2011
The Islamists were there to win, the Progressives wanted to be right
Tunisia’s first free election is now history and as expected, the Islamic party Ennadha has come away victorious. No matter what their critics may say, we must acknowledge the extraordinary work done by the party. No doubt, they served a real political lesson to their opponents.
Among all the candidates and parties at the elections, Ennadha was by far the better prepared. Their militants were very active on the field during the campaign and their leader, Rached Ghannouchi, as well as their head of list candidates, delivered excellent performance at the interviews and debates in which they participated. Furthermore, they were one of the only parties who had press liaisons capable of communicating in English with foreign media.
In short, all these elements contributed to the success of Ennahda as the party managed to win 90 of the 217 seats (41.47%) of the Constituent Assembly, far ahead of its nearest rival, the Congress for the Republic, who amassed 30 seats.
There is however another element that largely favored Ennadha in the election of October 23rd. Unlike its opponents, the party was able to gather almost all the Islamic forces in its ranks and present a common front to the electorate.
Instead of opting for a similar strategy, most progressive parties and independent candidates chose to remain alone. Even though they obtained about 50% of the votes, they are now more than 27 different political formations to share the seats! Worse, the five largest progressive parties were not even able to match Ennahda’s results and only obtained 35.47% of the ballots. This effectively renders a majority coalition between them virtually impossible.
Thus, almost 60% of Tunisians voted against Ennahda, but the Islamic party is still the one who will have the most power at the Assembly. Given this situation, the Progressives have no one but themselves to blame. Indeed, whether they want to admit it or not, their strife is largely the cause of Ennadha’s current success. Also, the few slight differences in their programs mixed up electors and diluted the vote. Some of the candidates of the five largest progressive parties even had a difficult time pointing out what distinguished them from their opponents when asked by the media.
Such a situation is not exclusive to Tunisia. Just think about Canada’s general election on May 2nd where the conservatives managed to unite right-wing electors and win a majority with 39.6% of the vote, finishing ahead of the Liberals and the NDP who had collected respectively 30.6% and 18.9%.
The same scenario occurred in Montreal’s municipal elections in 2009 when Gerald Tremblay’s Union Montreal party won a third term despite a difficult campaign in which numerous scandals associated with his administration were reported in the media. The main opposition parties, Vision Montreal and Projet Montreal, had refused to ally themselves before the election, leaving the field open for another victory of Mr. Tremblay with only 37.9% of votes. The two parties had gathered a combined 58.18%.
With that said, the next election in Tunisia should take place in a year or so, giving the government enough time to write the new constitution. The parties are already on a tight schedule and probably won’t have that much time to attract voters and change the perceptions they have towards them. Unless they make terrible blunders, Ennadha should be able to retain their electoral base as the actual conditions are favorable to them – besides the constitution, very few major projects are likely to emerge before the next vote.
The progressive parties will therefore have much to do until the next time Tunisians visit the polls again. By then, they will also have to ask themselves a fundamental question : do we prefer another Ennahda victory or are we willing to compromise to form a coalition against them?
To not consider this option would be ignoring the reality of the situation for progressive parties. They have recently taken a beating from the Islamists, and unless they adapt their strategy, there is no indication that they will not endure an equally brutal defeat come next year.