Tunisia's historical parliamentary election was held on Oct. 6, 2019, the third election after the Arab Spring. Just three weeks after the first round of the presidential race, this election was crucial for political parties due to the loss of support reflected in the votes in the presidential election.
The second round of the presidential election was held on Oct. 13, one week after the parliamentary election. The two elections showed that people have rejected the secular establishment, even the old parties, while the Ennahda Party remained an exception. In this scenario, the voter turnout in the elections was also very low, which is alarming for the democracy of Tunisia.
In the first round of the presidential election, independent candidate Kais Saied secured the first position with 18.40% of the popular vote, which turn into a landslide victory with 72.5%, according to the primary result, in the second round. Saied does not have experience with political parties or established politics.
Interestingly, he hasn't arranged big meetings or large public gatherings during his campaign; instead, he went door to door to get a feel for people's take on politics since the Arab Spring, and to inquire if the country needs another revolution to develop the economy and ensure public security. His slogan "Youth want" has become popular with younger generations and has inspired spontaneous support.
Following Saied, media mogul Nabil Karoui secured the second position with 15.58% of the vote in the first round and 27.5% in the second round. He is also not a political figure in terms of established politics.
Though he had a hand in the establishment of the ruling secularist Nidaa Tounes party, he is more famous as a media personality. He just established his political party Qalb Tunes a few months ago. He gained popularity by arranging a series of talk shows on TV where he presented what was lacking in the current establishment and its failure to improve the economy.
If we analyze the results of the candidates of the political parties in the presidential election, a very clear and interesting scenario arises, which I would like to name the "more-less" factor; what I mean by that is the parties and candidates nearer to the current power received fewer percentages of the vote.
For example, current Prime Minister Yousef Chahed got 7% of the vote, securing fifth place; the candidate of the ruling party Nida Tunes, Abdelkarim Zbidi, got 10% of the vote, putting him in fourth place; and the candidate of the opposition Ennahda party, Abdelfattah Mourou, got 13% of vote to rank third.
In terms of political parties' results, the Ennahda performed better than the other parties, especially the secularist establishment.
Finally, the people are looking for a fresh face for president for the future of Tunisia instead of the current establishment, who has already failed to meet demands, especially in the economy where the unemployment rate and overall growth are not satisfactory compared to the pre-revolution period.
Alarmingly low turnout
The voter turnout in the elections was alarming at 45.02% in the first round, considering it was 62.9% in 2014. Comparing the presidential election turnout to the parliamentary election shows it was also lower; at only 41.3% where it was 67.7% in 2014 parliamentary election.
Although the turnout in the second round of the presidential election increased to 57.8%, the overall voter turnout was low. Could this be due to dissatisfaction with democracy or the democratic regime? Tunisia's politicians have to consider this important issue.
A divided parliament
In the parliamentary election, Ennahda secured the highest position by 52 seats with 19.5 % of the vote. Following Ennahda the Qalb Tunes got 38 seats with 14.5% of the vote, the Democratic Current Party got 22 seats, another three parties each got between 16 to 21 seats each and the ruling prime minister' party Long live Tunisia got 14 seats. Along with the seven main parties, another five parties each got between three to four seats each and the remaining 21 seats have been allocated to the other parties and independent candidates as one to two seats each.
Interestingly, among the seven top parties, there is no party from the secular establishment. The ruling party and the parties of its major coalition have dramatically lost their vote ratings.
The Nidaa Tunes got only three seats, securing the 10th position, though it got 86 seats in 2014's election. The Popular Front got one seat, and Afek Tounes got two seats, while the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) didn't get any seats. The total number of these four parties of the ruling coalition government was 125 in 2014's election, while this decreased to six seats in this election.
Other older secularist parties also saw a loss in terms of seats. So, this result shows a loss of popularity for the secular establishment and old secularist parties. The secular establishment was hurt by internal division, being blamed for the current crises, especially the economy and high unemployment.
Now if we analyze the results of Ennahda the voter percentage decreased compared to the 2014 and 2011 elections, but it will retain a large number of seats in parliament.
The tension within the secular establishment has become an advantage in the political scene. As a result, its success rides on maintaining unity within the party, which is compromised of different opinions. I think it is one of the important characteristics of the leadership of Rachid al Ghannouchi, the main leader of Ennahda
The rise of Qalb Tunes has also shows that people are not satisfied with the other parties. They intended to find an alternative to the secular establishment, although change may not be possible through Qalb Tunes because the base of the party is not strong enough to lead the nation. Currently, it relies on the popularity of Nabil Karoui.
So, the result of the parliamentary election has led to a divided parliament, where no party can secure an absolute majority.
An obligatory coalition
Following the results of the parliamentary election, an obligatory coalition is now the main issue. It is a complex task to make an effective coalition in this situation where the majority party needs the support of three or more parties to ensure a majority in parliament.
Ennahda should try to make a strong coalition for the future of the democracy of Tunisia. It should include the parties and parliamentarians as much as possible in the coalition for the betterment of Tunisia.
Along these lines, effective cooperation with elected President Kais Saied is also necessary for the upcoming coalition government; the people would like to rely on him.
Finally, there are similarities between the current situation of Tunisia's democracy and the situation of Turkey in the '90s in terms of elections, where a single party was unable to get absolute majority and often hung parliaments were formed.
I think two steps can overcome these difficulties. First, the head of the party should lead the country with vision and a strong team; by this, I mean Ennahda as a majority party. Second, Tunisia may implement a barrage system in the parliamentary election as Turkey and European countries have done in the past. Though it may be a criticized move, it is necessary to create a strong parliament in Tunisia.
* Ph.D. candidate in Politics and Social Science Program at Gazi University