Pre-Election Technical Assessment: Tunisia, December 15 - 22 1993

Publication Date: 
30 Jan 1994

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is a nonprofit organization which provides technical services and research support for election authorities and other institutions in emerging, evolving and established democracies.

IFES conducted a pre-election technical assessment in Tunisia from December 15 to 22 1993 in anticipation of presidential and parliamentary elections on March 20, 1994. The delegation consisted of Jeffrey Fischer, IFES Chief of Staff and Dr. Clement Henry, professor of government and Middle East Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. This assessment mission was made possible through a grant provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the Near East and South Asia Bureau and the Global Affairs Bureau.

In their assessment of the electoral process, Mr. Fischer and Dr. Henry met with representatives of the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice. The delegation met with representatives of the ruling party as well as the major opposition parties. Academics and retired government officials were also consulted.

On December 22, the Tunisian Parliament passed a new electoral code which introduced a limited proportional representation into the election of Members of Parliament. Under this new legislation, it is widely believed that opposition parties could win up to 19 seats. All 141 seats in the Parliament are now occupied by members of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD). This mission offered the unique opportunity to discuss the new law in its final days before passage and assess the impact of these statutory changes on political life, campaigns and the electoral process.

These changes must be evaluated in a context which includes politics, geography and recent events in Tunisia. For example, the volatile political situations in Algeria and Egypt were cited by many of those interviewed as examples of breakdowns in the political and security elements in a society which Tunisians want to avoid at home. This justification appears at the forefront of President Zine-El-Abidine Ben Ali's actions against political activity by Islamists.

The administration of elections is divided among ministries, levels of government and special commissions. The campaign for national office is two weeks long with a moratorium on political activity the day before voting. The RCD has developed a dominant political position in terms of elected officials, resources and membership. Opposition parties include the Movement of Social Democrats (MDS), Ettajdid (former Communist Party of Tunisia), Popular Unity Party (PUP), Progressive Socialist Rally (RSP), Social Party for Progress (PSP), Unionist Democratic Union (UDU), and the illegal Nahda Party. Most opposition parties have taken the step of announcing their endorsements of Ben Ali for re-election.

This report makes several recommendations including further changes to the association and electoral laws; consolidating the administration of elections into a single, independent authority; greater political openness; lengthening the period of political campaigning; centralizing the system of voter registration; changing the multiple ballot system; using security seals on ballot boxes; and, reducing the number of polling stations. It also recommends the invitation of an international observers delegation to observe the conduct of the campaign and polling day activities.

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