Tunisian Election Results Guide: The Fate of a Revolution

Running data and commentary on the results of Tunisia's first election, held on Sunday

tunisia oct26 p.jpg

Supporters of the Islamist al-Nahda party celebrate outside their headquarters in Tunis / Reuters

Update, Friday 10:58 a.m. EST: Final results, for all of the 217 seats. This will be the composition of Tunisia's Constituent Assembly, which will draft the constitution:

• 41 percent (90 seats) have gone to al-Nahda, the Islamist party
• 34 percent (73 seats) to the big liberal parties (CPR, Ettakatol, PDP, Ettajdid)
• 9 percent (19 seats) to the bizarre Popular Petition (see below)
• 4 percent (9 seats) to the parties aligned with Ben Ali's regime (Afek Tounes, Mubadara)

Three big pieces of news. First is that Popular Petition (an unusual party, led by a wealthy TV station owner, which I briefly profile at the bottom of this page) had even more votes cancelled by the election authorities. They've gone from 28 seats to 19 over alleged campaign finance violations. (Al-Nahda also lost some seats under similar charges.) I doubt many people will be crying tears for this party, but it's bad news for Tunisia's nascent democracy, which has otherwise functioned wonderfully. A bunch of Tunisian citizens just had their votes cancelled by an unelected government body, in a closed-door meeting, with no due process. Tunisians have shown incredible faith in the democratic process so far, and that faith is essential for any democracy to function. But this small failure could erode that faith. If it's followed by more roadbumps, people might decide this system isn't for them.

It's unsurprising, then, that a number of people in Sidi Bouzid, where many of the votes were cancelled, protested. This poor city was the first to rise up in protest in the Arab world and suffered for it mightily. There's a sad, bitter irony that people in this town would be disenfranchised during the first election of a world-changing movement they began. That they took the streets and tried to burn some government buildings is understandable but a bad sign for the prospect of Tunisia growing democratic roots. Fortunately, the protests have already subsided peacefully.

The third bit of news is, of course, the results themselves. I'll add more analysis later so please check back, but for now the headline is the incredible success of liberal parties. One third of the vote to the leading liberal parties is good -- the strength of liberals will be even higher once those core groups are joined by the many smaller parties that won seats in the assembly. They will have to join with al-Nahda, there's no way around that. But it looks like Tunisia's identity, long-fractured between religion and liberalism, will finally come together. It's a great sign for this country's future and for the Arab Spring they sparked.

Update, Thursday 5:18 p.m. EST: This is bad: the election board has cancelled some of al-Nahda's votes. About six hours ago, they cancelled six seats that had been assigned to an independent party called Popular Petition, a move they just now explained as a response to campaign finance violations. They're now also announcing that they're cancelling some votes due to al-Nahda, an Islamist party and Tunisia's most popular party by far.

"I think there's good chance of some violence in interior towns in protest of decision," Daphne McCurdy (in Tunisia on behalf of the Project on Middle East Democracy) warned on Twitter. Cancelling peoples' votes is a big deal at any place or time. But the Tunisian election authorities have cancelled peoples' votes in the country's first-ever election -- a time when people are typically uncertain about democracy in general. This is not going to instill great popular faith in the democratic experiment. Nor is it going to make the Tunisians whose votes were cancelled feel that they are being fully represented.

Announcing that these votes would be cancelled in the middle of the vote tally was a bad move. It will be up to the Tunisian interim government to give people reason to have faith in their new democracy.

Update, Thursday 4:52 p.m. EST: Updated results, for 192 of the 217 seats. Of those:

• 41 percent (78 seats) have gone to al-Nahda, the Islamist party
• 31 percent (59 seats) to the big liberal parties (CPR, Ettakatol, PDP, Ettajdid)
• 13 percent (25 seats) to the bizarre Popular Petition (see below)
• 5 percent (9 seats) to the parties aligned with Ben Ali's regime (Afek Tounes, Mubadara)

Six hours after pulling four seats from Popular Petition without explanation (see below), the Tunisian election authority has finally explained what happened. According to Daphne McCurdy, Popular Petition was disqualified in several districts for campaign finance violations.

That Popular Petition would be accused of campaign finance rule-breaking is not shocking. The party founder and chief, Mohamed Hechim Hamdi, is a wealthy businessman who has used his money aggressively in the campaign. He's also made some outrageous claims on the campaign trail -- for example, free health care for all elderly. (Tunisia can't afford that.) He doesn't seem like the kind of businessman-turned-politician who would consider himself above skirting campaign finance rules.

But what is surprising is that the Tunisian election authorities would invalidate the results in the middle of tallying votes -- and would wait six hours after retracting the seats to explain why. This vote has gone remarkably smoothly so far, but this raises questions about how ready the Tunisian election authorities really are. It also raises the possibility that Popular Petition will contest not just the odd decision but the competency of the election authorities themselves.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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