The results of Tunisia’s elections on Sunday continue to be tabulated, with 159 of 217 seats definitively assigned. As of this writing, Al Nahda has won 65 seats (30 percent) and is very likely to gain more. The Congress for the Republic (CPR) is tied with a dark horse party, Al Aridha Ashabiya (the People’s Petition for Freedom, Justice, and Development) with 22 seats. Ettakatol is in third with 13 seats, and the Progressive Democratic Party trails with 7.
Al Aridha’s success has been met with skepticism and dismay by some who allege that the party’s backer, Hechmi Haamdi, was a supporter of the deposed autocrat Ben Ali, and that a member of the former ruling party Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD) is among the candidates on Al Aridha’s list. Haamdi lives in London where he owns two satellite television stations that broadcast to Tunisia. In addition to calling for a democratic constitution, the party has promised free healthcare and compensation for unemployed people in return for community service. Haamdi himself, a wealthy man from his media businesses, has pledged to inject the state budget with 2 billion Tunisian dinars of his own money.
Both CPR and Ettakatol have indicated that they are in talks with Al Nahda about joining a majority coalition. The CPR, led by human rights activist Moncef Marzouki, has carefully walked a central line, neither opposing nor outright supporting Al Nahda’s platform, but noting that religion unites Tunisians. Of his party’s possible alliance with Al Nahda, Marzouki said, “Human rights and women’s rights are a line not to be crossed. We would join an opposition government if those points became endangered.” CPR and Ettakatol’s electoral success is partly attributed to their respectful stance to Islam and their acknowledgement of Tunisians’ desire to express religious identity, which has been suppressed for decades by the authoritarian secularism of the former regime. The Progressive Democratic Party took a more confrontational stance with respect to religion in the political sphere and is widely thought to have suffered for that. Political jockeying to form a new government is now well underway. A coalition government formed by Islamist Al Nahda and more progressive secular parties will be challenging, but would represent an important democratic step forward for Tunisia.