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Tunisia: October 23 election, a catharsis or a future axis

Never in their history had the Tunisians experienced an event as crucial as that of the Constituent Assembly election set for October 23.

After the end of an autocratic regime referring to dark years, synonymous with repression and atrocities carried out on different ways and beset by economic troubles, of which unemployment is the most painful expression, Tunisians are craving for freedom. And this freedom, they want it without nuances, irreversible and adamantine. Aspirations that future and new leaders of the country should place in the heart of the system they propose to the people in terms of values and related mechanisms.

However, is there a party that is better suited, displays a sincere desire to embody the long repressed aspirations and which must now make up the political platform on which the foundations of the country will be laid down, away from all ideological or partisan references? It is to this essential question that all candidates in the October 23 election have to respond, not only with speeches, often inflamed and riddled with promises.

Clearly, the at least 111 political parties that are running for the Constituent Assembly and for the membership attached to it, are struggling to set themselves up as custodians of national consciousness, either because they have not attributes, or because the voters do not recognize their credit or the visibility that pushed them to fulfill the task. There seems to be a visual illusion that the electorate does not appear to fall into. This is understandable, especially as Tunisians, who have learned from past experiences, particularly the “virtuous” statements of intentions they have been force-fed, by a certain November 7, 1987, have many reasons to take care not to return to the old ways that followed and hijacked the national destiny, for 23 years. Indeed, Tunisia is wary now of leaping into uncharted waters under the firm rule of potential leaders. Of all the political parties seeking their votes insistently and at times by harassing them, voters are required to choose 217 representatives, the majority of whom will be from the “Ennahdha” movement, as suggested by opinion polls and stated by the Islamist party leadership. Admittedly, the latter that is marked by a well structured organization and implementation and an unparalleled territory-based presence, would be better off than other competitors to make rain or shine in the next Constituent Assembly, without being able to reassure people about the next steps.

Doubts and even fears appear here and there, particularly among women and youth, the first determined to defend tooth and nail the gains made for their benefit and the second incredulous about the “better tomorrow” they have been led to believe. But that’s not all, the “Nahdhaouis” are suspected of holding a double standard and concealing intentions which will be revealed once they are in power, it is argued. Especially since this movement is mathematically expected to win the right to draft the Constitution of the second republic, or at least sketch its framework. Would we be able to rule by a broadly theocratic regime, would freedom of belief be put in props store, would we have another model of society that does not match with or match little with the major references of modern Tunisia, would the Salafis have free hand to impose, by force if necessary, Islamic rigor and finally, more prosaically, would women be forced to wear the veil and other accoutrements that they reject? This is the kind of the torments that trouble many Tunisian and to which the Ennahdha movement responds with the back of the hand, saying, however, with the last energy, that this will not happen and it will be the driving force of a modernity adapted to the Tunisian reality without changing one iota the gains achieved by Tunisia since the Independence. Until the reality of each other is revealed in the full light of the day, it is in the order of politics that nothing is a foregone conclusion and that power has its levers and to be honest its contradictions that the convictions of the future are not always those that are declared yesterday. This mode to operate is not unique to Tunisia, which is more, is discovering the delights of freedom and democracy, but a nearly universal crippling flaw.

The fact is that the new leadership of the country will rigorously be judged on what it will do for the nation and especially on its ability to keep its promises and not to disappoint the expectations and the hopes placed in it. Last but not least, it is in the resources of the people of Tunisia, and they have given evidence of that throughout the election campaign, to nurture peace, to hold fast to their identity and aspire only to what they consider as good and honest. For the rest, we should wait for October 23 and beyond!


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