Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tunisian elections: There can be no risk-free democracy

Some people are scared of elections if they can't predict the outcome. They are usually the old guard and their foreign backers. The Tunisian people are not scared any more

Sihem Bensedrine
(Sihem Bensedrine is a Tunisian journalist and human rights activist), Sunday 23 October 2011

"....Just as popular demand for democracy was ever more clear and left ever less room for doubt, so the transitional government led by Caied Essebsi and his panoply of "committees" was ever more committed to ignoring it, and instead to carry on serving up the old authoritarian menu. But the young people who created this revolution have their own vision, their own programme. The watchwords of the demonstrations and sit-ins held since 14 January reveal a lot about the clarity of thought of the young people who continually reiterate the three urgent unfinished reforms: justice (including social justice), police and media.

Today's elections will be the real test of the capacity of the political class to respond innovatively to the these demands. They need to step off the beaten path of autocratic kneejerk reactions and accept the verdict of the ballot box.

These are the first elections Tunisia has known since independence whose outcome is not known in advance. And that scares people. Firstly, it scares the European, and especially French, decision-makers who refuse to accept the risks which come with any free and fair election...

Resistance to change is predictable. We have rarely seen transitions in which people politely give up power. Nor is the transition from dictatorship to democracy a well-trodden path. The provisional government, obsessed by its concern not to upset the old guard, kicked urgently needed reforms into the long grass, and left the Constituent Assembly to deal with the four major areas of unfinished business of the transition – the preservation of vital records and archives, and the reform for the judiciary, the media and the police - as well as the task of installing a new government.....

Despite the fact that the electoral system which has been chosen tends to work against radical forces, and despite the role that money has played in the campaign, there is still everything to play for. The people of Tunisia will remain on guard to see that their revolution is not stolen from them. Fear has been banished from the hearts and minds of the people of Tunisia. They will inspire other countries, as they have inspired other revolutions."

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