by M. Adnen Chaouachi
The process of building a democracy in Tunisia was launched by demonstrations in the streets of towns and cities throughout the country, which led to the rapid departure of Ben Ali. Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Sidi Bouzid on December 17th, 2010, and Ben Ali fled the country with his wife on January 14th, 2011. The citizens of Tunisia began to enjoy freedom of speech, expression and the media, and organized free and fair elections which were held on October 23rd. These events summarize the different factors that shook Tunisia over the past 10 months.
Yet, there's a missing element on the list. It is the announcement of the results of the elections, which has been given much attention by local and foreign observers who are trying to understand how the Constituent Assembly will look like. In simple terms, the announcement is just an event that takes place after the votes are counted, the results gathered and finally communicated to the organizing committee, the Higher Independent Authority for the Elections (ISIE). On October 27th, however, the announcement of the results was not easy for many Tunisians. Today, many Tunisians claim that some political parties should never have risen to power as they are too radical or too liberal, not representing the will of the people.
To classify and judge political parties might be legitimate when discussing politics with friends or the family. But politicians, political commentators and journalists with close media ties and an impact on public opinion should be more responsible and think twice before making radical comments. This, by no means, implicates a return to censorship, but rather a responsibility for the consequences of public statements and actions. In the past, those who dared denouncing injustice and censorship were jailed and prohibited from having any professional activity. For years, the majority of Tunisian political parties suffered from censorship and exclusion that was thoroughly enforced by the government. Today, Tunisians are proud that the country’s emerging democracy is an open space for divergent political orientations and heated debates.
The results of the elections have been communicated to the world. The moderate Islamic party Ennahda and the Congress for the Republic (CPR) will dominate the Constituent Assembly for the period of transition. It is a scenario that nobody expected. If you have followed the media coverage of the electoral campaign, you have probably thought that Ennahda and the CPR will have some seats but never the majority. Yet, predictions were mere a senseless understanding of the newly born Tunisian democracy. They misrepresented the voting patterns and the political affiliations of the people, both in the Tunisian capital and remote areas.
The political debates and programs broadcast on some Tunisian media outlets have played a significant role in misleading the public opinion and underestimating the power of Ennahda and the CPR. There was a gap between the media's understanding of the political situation in Tunisia and the reality on the ground. These two parties were demonized and accused of benefiting from foreign funds and assistance. The media thought that attacking these parties would weaken them and pave the ground for more liberal voices to occupy the seats at the Constituent Assembly. This strategy and propaganda, however, has had the opposite effect because it was based on accusations without evidence. Indeed, instead of preventing people from voting for Ennahda and the CPR, it reinforced their belief that the victims of the past were still targeted. The reaction was certainly unexpected but natural. At this level, one wonders whether we should trust our media outlets or the results of the elections, which have been described by foreign governments and the international media as fair and transparent.
M. Adnen Chaouachi is a journalist and radio presenter on Tunis International Radio. He is also a Teaching Assistant of Communication at the ISSHT, the University of Tunis-El Manar. M. Adnen Chaouachi is currently working on political communication and propaganda in the media.