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Tunis, Tunisia – Tunisia’s October 23 election of a National Constituent Assembly marks an historic achievement in the country’s transition to democracy after decades of autocratic rule.  That Tunisia organized national elections only nine months after a dramatic revolution is itself an accomplishment. 

IRI’s international observer delegation found the elections to be conducted in a positive atmosphere of national pride, with enthusiastic voters waiting patiently to express their democratic will.  High voter participation in an environment that was peaceful and orderly suggests that Tunisia has taken an important step toward a democratic future.

IRI’s delegation found polling station officials to be professional, knowledgeable about their duties and committed to conducting the elections according to established rules and procedures.  This is especially notable given that they were administering Tunisia’s first democratic election. 

Due to a variety of factors the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE) announced elections procedures less than one month before elections.  As a consequence, the training of election workers and the dissemination of election materials was complicated.  Likewise, the late announcement of procedures delayed voter education efforts that might have resulted in a better informed electorate.  For future elections, IRI recommends the finalization and announcement of elections procedures no later than 60 days prior to the date of elections.  An enhanced effort to train larger numbers of election workers through a training-of-trainers model would strengthen the ability to conduct elections in an orderly and efficient manner, likely resulting in less waiting time for voters. 

A specific weakness noted by IRI was the length of time required by election workers to locate names on the voter registry.  Combined with high voter turnout, this contributed to a lengthy wait time required to cast votes.  Although Tunisians patiently stood in line sometimes for hours to cast a ballot, IRI strongly recommends that electoral authorities consider more election workers to check in voters in future elections.

The ISIE’s registration effort would have been strengthened by clearer guidance on the mechanics of voter registration and on the reasoning behind the choice of a closed list proportional representation system. 

IRI noted that illiterate voters faced acute challenges in casting ballots and strongly recommends that future elections include targeted education initiatives for illiterate voters.  Procedures for assisting illiterate and disabled voters must also be clarified for future elections.

The ISIE is to be commended for making additional efforts to enfranchise voters by allowing for passive registration through the use of the national identification card.  However, this change in voter eligibility and the use of both active and passive registration systems late in the process resulted in voter confusion about where and how to vote.  Future elections must attempt to provide more straightforward guidance on passive registration, or improve active voter registration efforts.  Problems with passive registration voters unable to find polling locations due to technology failures must be addressed well before the next election.

IRI’s delegation is encouraged by vibrant political party campaigning that occurred in advance of elections.  The delegation found the large number of electoral choices presented to voters to be consistent with first elections that have occurred in many countries in democratic transition.  Tunisia’s political forces must find ways to work together constructively in a democratic context if the country’s elected institutions are to respond to voter priorities.  In addition to demands for freedom of assembly and expression, these include economic opportunity and improvements in the quality of life.

The widespread participation of Tunisian nonpartisan domestic observers and political party agents contributed to the election’s atmosphere of transparency.  Domestic observers were present at almost every polling station visited by IRI.  IRI found most domestic observers to be well trained about election procedures, and serious and professional in conduct.  Party agent monitoring was also commendably widespread.  IRI did however note several instances of undue influence by party agents in some governorates, and therefore recommends that additional political party agent training be undertaken before the next elections.  IRI believes that a lack of understanding about electoral rules contributed to party agents not fully understanding their roles.

IRI also noted isolated instances of improper campaigning by political party supporters on Election Day, including the distribution of sample ballots and electioneering inside polling centers.  Improved understanding of election rules by parties would help decrease instances of improper campaigning in future elections.  Reports of money and other handouts influencing votes should be further investigated.

Women were active and important participants in ISIE commissions and as candidates and should be provided further opportunities for leadership during elections.  In addition, women’s voter participation should continue to feature prominently in voter education efforts.  Gender balance on candidate lists represents a serious attempt at inclusivity for women but their placement on party lists may result in disappointing representation for women in the assembly. 

IRI’s delegation included 28 international and five long-term local Tunisian observers.  Egyptian, French, Jordanian, Palestinian, Polish, Romanian and American representatives observed voting and ballot counting in more than 200 polling stations in Bizerte, Beja, Gabes, Kairouan, Kasserine, Kef, Monastir, Nabeul, Sfax, Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tunis.  IRI’s long-term observers, who visited more than 50 polling stations, augmented the efforts of the international observers.

IRI’s delegation was led by The Honorable Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota, with His Excellency Emil Constantinescu, former President of Romania as co-leader.

Governor Pawlenty served two terms as governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011.  During that period, he made five trips to Iraq, three trips to Afghanistan, and led trade missions around the world to, among other countries, China, India, Israel, Chile, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic.

President Constantinescu served as president of Romania from 1996-2000.  After the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989, Constantinescu became a founding member of the Civic Alliance, the most important civil society organization which joined the democratic opposition parties and created the Democratic Convention of Romania.

Other delegates were:

IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission. IRI staff were led by Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI; Thomas Garrett, IRI’s Vice President for Programs; Scott Mastic, IRI’s Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa programs; and Djordje Todorovic, IRI’s Resident Country Director in Tunisia.

Upon arrival in Tunisia, delegates were briefed by representatives from the U.S. Embassy, ISIE, international and Tunisian nongovernmental organizations, political parties and representatives of the media.  They were also briefed on Tunisian election law, and the rights and responsibilities of international observers.

Delegates were then deployed throughout the country where they observed polling stations and identified and evaluated strengths and weaknesses in Tunisia’s election system, including campaign regulations, the balloting process, vote tabulation and reporting.

IRI also deployed long-term observers throughout the country to observe election related activities such as political campaigns and rallies.  These efforts gave IRI observers a better understanding of the election environment. 

Since 1983, IRI has monitored 135 elections in 43 countries.

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