Tunisian Election Results: The Main Players and the Geographical Spread

Analysis, posted 11.25.2011, from Tunisia, in:
Tunisian Election Results: The Main Players and the Geographical Spread (Photo: cmec.org.uk)

Final election results for Tunisia’s first democratic elections for the Constituent Assembly place Islamist party Ennahdha well at the top of the list with 90 seats, a full triple of those seats won by its next closest competitor. The Constituent Assembly, which will write the country’s new constitution, holds 217 seats. Ennahdha is followed at a distance by Moncef Marzouki’s center-left Congress for the Republic with 30 seats; then, the prominent, media-favorite center-left Ettakatol party, headed by long-time activist Mustapha Ben Jaafar, with 21 seats; and the dark horse, Hichem (or Hachemi) Hamdi’s People’s Petition for Liberty, Justice and Development, allegedly supported by former members of deposed dictator Ben Ali’s regime, with 19 official seats.

The Islamist party Ennahdha came in first in every district, except the district of Sidi Bouzid, including those districts abroad, almost always by a very significant margin.  Each district featured an almost consistent cast of characters, rotating between those parties noted above.

The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which had fared very well in some surveys leading up to the elections, performed comparatively poorly, drawing seats from both districts in the capital, but also from some cities far in the interior of the country, including the Western agricultural towns of Beja, Jendouba, and Siliana, the Southern mining town of Gafsa, and the Souther tourism-dependent city of Tataouine.  The PDP garnered a total of 17 seats.

The Democratic Modernist Pole, which had taken a strongly pro-secular stance and controversially advocated equality in inheritance along with the abolition of the death penalty, found itself with only five seats, four of those from districts in or around the capital, Tunis, and one from Northern France.

Kamel Morjane, who served as former dictator Ben Ali’s minister of Defense and then minister of Foreign Affairs during 2005-2011, controversially participated in the elections with his Initiative party, also referred to as Al-Moubadara.  Al-Moubadara won five seats, all from Morjane’s region of birth, the Sahel, or Eastern coast of Tunisia: 2 from Sousse, 2 from Monastir, 1 from Mahdia.

The liberal party Afek Tounes won four seats, scattered in three geographically different districts: one seat from the north of the country, one from the south, and two from the Sahel, or East Coast.

Far-left parties did not fare well in the elections, with the famous Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party [Parti communiste des ouvriers de Tunisie – PCOT] winning only three seats, as compared to the center-left Congress for the Republic, which won ten times as many seats. The leftist Movement of Patriotic Democrats [Mouvement des patriotes démocrates – MOUPAD] also received only two seats out of the available 217.

A number of independent lists from various regions of the country also received seats, with the final number of independents in the Constituent Assembly totaling 21.

Redistribution of Seats: Campaign Violations & Sidi Bouzid’s Aridha Chaabia

Before the finalization of election results, some seats were redistributed due to campaign violations. Most significantly, thee People’s Petition Party, also known as Aridha Chaabia (or Al-Aridha Al-Chaabia), lost eight of its original 27 seats due to electoral campaign violations. This penalty drew protests, particularly in the town of Sidi Bouzid, the “birthplace” of the Tunisian revolution, where Aridha Chaabia received over 48,000 votes. In comparison, the Islamist Ennahdha party won less than half that many votes in the district, coming in at just under 20,000.  Sidi Bouzid was the only district in which Ennahdha did not receive the greatest number of votes.

As Tunisia Live, reported in a separate article: 
“Aridha Chaabia would have won 27 seats, but the invalidation of six lists resulted in a loss of eight seats […]. The ISIE [Independent Higher Authority for Elections] justified their decision by saying they have proof of campaign finance violations.
Aridha Chaabia was almost completely unknown before their surprising electoral success. It enjoyed broad success in marginalized and interior regions, but it is widely rumored to be organized by actors loyal to the old Ben Ali regime.”

Tunisia Live has separately posted an article analyzing the reasons behind the surprise popularity of Aridha Chaabia, looking in particular at the relationship of its head, current Londoner Hichem Hamdi, to residents of his hometown, Sidi Bouzid, and the surrounding region. The article details the promises Hamdi offered Tunisians, in part through his television station, al-Moustekella, broadcast from the UK; “the economic and social aspects of Al Aridha’s program,” the article explains, “include: universal health care, unemployment benefits of 200 dinars for each jobless citizen, free transportation for anyone over the age of 65, and ‘charity boxes’ (‘inspired from the Quran and the Prophet Mohamed’s teachings,’ according to Hamdi) for those treated unjustly.“

Those seats lost by Aridha Chaabia were redistributed, and the three remaining principal winners benefited: the Islamist Ennahdha, the center-left Congress for the Republic, and the center-left Ettakatol party. All of these parties are headed by prominent, long-time opponents of the Ben Ali regime.

The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) received two of Aridha Chaabia’s redistributed seats. The PDP initially found itself with a surprisingly small number of seats -15 - but saw that number rise to 17, putting it virtually on par with Aridha Chaabia.  The PDP is headed by prominent former Ben Ali opponent Néjib Chebbi and Maya Jeribi. Tunisia Live initially reported party as in shambles following its shockingly disappointing performance in the elections, despite its prominence in several pre-election surveys. [See another Tunisia Live article: “PDP Crushed, Party in Chaos”].

Final Election Results: Update

Following a court decision, the initial disqualification of seven seats won by al-Aridha al-Chaabia was overturned, returning the total number of seats per party to: Ennahdha, 89; Congress for the Republic (CPR), 29; al-Aridha al-Chaabia, 26; Ettakatol, 20; and the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), 16 (See, “Aridha Chaabia’s Seats Reinstated”).

The independent list al-Aridha al-Chaabia, who made a surprisingly strong showing for a party unknown to many Tunisian before the October 23rd elections, has an uncertain future. Twelve members, nine of whom are heads of lists, resigned from al-Aridha al-Chaabia in favor of independence, following leader Hachemi Hamdi’s bizarre behavior and unilateral decision to withdraw all party members from the Constituent Assembly following the initial disqualification of eight seats.

Hachemi Hamdi, in exile in London, announced in mid-November on his television station al-Moustekella, that he would be “immediately and totally freezing his political activities in Tunisia,” as he had not received the apologies he had requested from several political parties and media sources for what he called the “campaign of hate and exclusion” against him (See “Hachemi Hamdi’s New Evasion”). Hamdi is considered controversial furthermore for allegedly accepting money from the deposed president Ben Ali. As such, Hamdi’s party was initially referred to as a RCD-linked party, the RCD being the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique, the puppet party of deposed dictator Ben Ali (See “Aridha Chaabia Continues to Surprise”).

The “coalition” of majority parties established within the Constituent Assembly does not include the independent list al-Aridha al-Chaabia, despite the fact that al-Aridha technically has the third-most seats.  The coalition is instead composed of the Islamist party Ennahdha and two center-left parties, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol. Other minority parties, such as the liberal Afek Tounes and the center-left Progressive Democratic Party, have placed themselves in the opposition (See “Afek Tounes Determined to Be a Party of Opposition to Ennadha”, and “Opposition Parties Reactions to Coalition Talks”).

By Laura Thompson