By Ayman Ayoub, cross-posted from open Democracy
elections since the country's independence in 1956.
This achievement belongs to Tunisians above all, but it is also a great occasion for democrats and supporters
of democracy around the world. To see the long queues of Tunisians
awaiting their chance to cast a vote for the future of democracy in
their country is a delight and a source of hope. For many of these
voters - young and old, women and men - this was the first occasion to express their real choice freely, in an orderly fashion and with no fear or intimidation.
The remarkably high turnout
- up to an astonishing 90% of the electorate in many areas, according
to official data released by the electoral authorities - is a clear
indicator of the Tunisian people’s thirst for dignity, and their
determined will to build a democratic society. It is notable here that
some waiting voters protested against an attempt by the head of one
leading political party to bypass the queue by using a common expression from the days of revolution: "Dégage!"
In calling him back to join the queue, they were also affirming
something profound about equality of citizenship. That is where
This exceptional expression of "civism" in Tunisia also represents a clear signal of the real objectives
of the Arab uprisings at large. This is a region that has suffered from
long decades of dictatorships, oppression and injustice. Now, a new
generation is crying out "enough" - and voicing to the entire world that
it also deserves a chance to join the ever increasing community of
democratic nations. The success of the elections in Tunisia is
undeniable evidence of the popular will underlying the peaceful demands sweeping the Arab world for freedom and democracy.
The next task
The newly elected constituent assembly will now face the task of
delivering what could be the Arab world's pioneering democratic
constitution, to be developed by a legitimate and representative body.
The unquestioned legitimacy of the assembly, regardless of the exact
balance of seats between the various parties, ensures that large parts
of Tunisian society will feel directly included and involved in its
The participation of such a big number of political parties and
forces also shows the exceptional levels of expectation that the
Tunisian people and its emerging elites have in these elections - albeit
this very diversity also represents a technical challenge for both
voters and the Instance Supérieure Independante pour les Elections (ISIE, the independent electoral management body).
What now remains to be seen is the ability of all parties, in
principle and in practice, peacefully to accept the results; and
especially of those in the lead to take the responsibility of respecting
and building on the evident political diversity of Tunisian society.
The elected constituent assembly needs to ensure that the constitutional
process continues to be as inclusive and participatory as the elections
have been, beyond the actual electoral results; and to benefit from the
input and contributions of all Tunisians, both winners and losers of
Tunisia's elections also have a vital regional dimension. Egyptians and now Libyans have been able to topple their dictatorships, while Syrians
and Yemenis (among others) are continuing their struggle for freedom.
Many in both categories may see in Tunisia's elections an additional
sign of hope, for these offer tangible evidence that the path to
democracy is a viable one - confirming that democracy is possible here and now.
In their procedures and processes too, the elections should provide
relevant lessons that can be used in the actual or potential democratic transitions of other Arab countries. The coincidence that the elections came on the same day as National Transitional Council's declaration that Libya was at last fully liberated from Gaddafi´s rule is a further positive symbolic augury.
It is important to remember amid the celebration that elections only
constitute one pillar, however fundamental, of the democratic
"construct". Indeed, democracy-building is a long-term process that
involves much more than elections alone. The creation of a society based
on the rule of law, toleration of different views, freedom of the press
and media, and the integrity and accountability of public institutions
are also vital components. The successful step in the right direction
that the elections represent should encourage movement towards the full
accomplishment of these goals.
Tunisians have made a giant leap
towards democracy. The tyrannical regimes that continue to resist their
society's demands, such as Syria and Yemen, should see in it a
clinching argument that there is no force on earth able of defying an
awakened people's call for freedom, justice and dignity.
Ayman Ayoub is regional director of the west Asia and north Africa programme at International IDEA.
He is lawyer by training whose work has primarily focused on the
provision of specialised assistance services for elections and
democratisation processes in transitional and post-conflict countries