This Saturday 1 October saw the start of the campaign in Tunisia for the election of a constituent assemblee of 217 members which will be chosen on 23 October. The assemblee has the task to write a new constitution. Tunisia, that was the first Arab country to chase away its dictator, president Zein al Abidin Ben Ali and the corrupt members of his family, will thereby also become the first to move on to the next stage of the democratization process.
The transformation is not going to be easy. The transparency of the situation leaves much to be wished for. The Tunisian voters will have to choose between somewhat more than 11.000 candidates, on no less than 1500 different lists. Of the 1500 some 800 are party lists, another 600 are independent, and the reaining 100 or so are combinations of parties. Many of the independents seem to be former members of the disbanded former government party, the Rassemblement Constitunionel Démocratique (RCD), who in trhis way try to kick off a second political life.
The most interesting newcomer on the political stage is the islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party under Rachid Ghannouchi. The party has been illegal in Tunisia for more than 25 years and Ghannouchi himself has lived much of his life in London. It is widely believed that Ennahda is going to capture between 20 to 40% of the votes. What consequences that is going to have in practice remains to be seen. Ghannouchi tries hard to give his party the outlook of a modern islamo-democratic party. When the Turkish prime minister Erdogan visisted Tunis, Ghannouchi organized a reception for him and did his best to give the impression that he is close to the model of Erdogan's AK Party.
At the left side there are the old opposition parties, like the Parti démocrate progressiste (PDP), led by Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, which tranformed itself some the years ago from a socialist party into a somewhat more scialdemocratic one. Then there is the Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés (FDTL) (in Tunisia better known under the name Ettakatol) one of the parties that considers themselves heirs of the modernist stream of Habib Bourhguiba, the first president of independent Tunisia. Next there is the Ettajdid (Renewal) movement, a former communist party that is now socialdemocratic. All of these more or less fsih in the same waters.
An interesting newcomer among them is, however, the Congrès pour la République (CPR), led by the human rights lawyer, long time adversary of president Ben Ali and former political refugee, Moncef Marzouki. His program is lefist in the economical sense, and nationalist as far as the islamic and Arab identity of Tunisia is concerned. And finally there is the communist party, the Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens (PCOT), under the respected Hamma Hammami. Altogether a fragmented scene, after an attempt failed to unite the parties to the left in a Front du 14 Janvier.
A third tendency, next to Ennahda and the fragmented left, is the the parties to the right. Some of them like Al-Watan (the fatherland), and l’Initiative, were founded by ex-ministers of Ben Ali. Newcomers are Afek Tounes (Tunisian Horizon), founded by liberal economists, and l’Union patriotique libre, a party that started a very intensive publicity campaign and is financed by Slim Riahi, a rich Tunisian who made his fortune abroad.
As many of the old opposition parties were linked to the old regime in a way and therefor somewhat distrusted,and many of the enwcomers are still quite unknown, the outcome of this first step towrads the building of a new system is rather uncertain. But who expected otherwise?