By Kristina Kausch (FRIDE)
Following the adoption of a democratic constitution in January this year, Tunisia’s legislative elections held on October 26th – the country’s first democratic election to a permanent parliament – added another milestone to the country’s broadly promising trajectory. Conducted in a largely peaceful, mature manner, Sunday’s election is likely to lead to the formation of the first non-provisional democratic coalition government. It will also bring a novelty to the Arab world in being the first time an Islamist party is voted out of (and peacefully cedes) power, unless election winner Nidaa Tounes (‘Call of Tunisia’) invites the previously provisionally-governing Islamist party Ennahda (‘Renaissance’) to form a grand coalition.
Many lessons have been identified about the characteristics that have enabled Tunisia’s democratic transition to prosper. Regionally surrounded by a near-failed state (Libya), an executive monarchy (Morocco), and both persistent (Algeria) and renewed (Egypt) military autocracies – in spite of many setbacks – Tunisia has shown an astonishing ability to resist falling back into old authoritarian habits. This ability has largely been ascribed to domestic factors. Transition experts regard Tunisia’s structural features, such as high levels of education, a large middle class, advanced women’s rights and comparatively low levels of poverty as key for decreasing the odds of democratic setbacks. Similarly, the choices made by the Tunisian political class in managing the transition – inclusion and consensus-seeking – have contrasted positively with their ‘Arab spring’ peers.