Revolutions, Democratic Transitions and Reform Debates

 

Being in Tunisia, post the revolution, one cannot help but notice the explosion in political debates everywhere. The public fora held on a daily basis, the endless Q&A programs on all TV and Radio channels, the print press saturated with opinion pieces and open letters and most of all of internet-based social media following every new development and value-adding to it with its own analysis and recommendations for action.

 Truly, the scene at the social and political levels have totally transformed.

Of course, there are challenges in this first-ever Arab nation to successfully dislodge a dictator by peaceful means.

 First and foremost, has been the security challenge or how to restore a degree of confidence and trust in a police force that for the past half century was seen as the oppressive arm of the authoritarian regime of the dictatorial president.

At long last, progress has been made on this front, with the police force having its own union for the first time ever and also embarking on a confidence building reform agenda that sees it separated from the ruling party and government of the day.

Similarly, the judiciary, which has previously been infiltrated by the former regime, is now moving towards systematic reform both at the level of its training and accreditation programs as well as its senior appointments and relationship with the legislative councils and the executive.

Of course, more needs to take place before the judiciary is fully reformed.

The media is also in the middle of a major overhaul at all levels of its operations and amongst all types of its key players.

In essence, the media is now expected to play an objective role in the upcoming elections, a role that it has never been able to accomplish previously under the autocratic rule of the Ben Ali regime.

The media landscape has been exponentially enriched with so many new players in different forms all speaking and communicating from different social and political perspectives.

The key test will be the upcoming elections on 23rd of October 2011.

And this brings us to the current debate about these landmark elections for the constitutive assembly which will be tasked with drafting the new constitution and preparing the ground for the parliamentary and presidential elections shortly after that.

A monumental task by all measures and one that seems to generate so much debate even though the more than 93 legalised political parties seem to be in agreement about the new date.

But the current interim government of seasoned politician the 84-year old Beji Caied Sibssi is facing a much tougher challenge: how to keep the economy going against a stalling tourism season and a lacklustre employment market that has suffered from a weaker than usual foreign investment flow?

So far the government’s various overtures and initiatives seem to be positively received if not optimally effective in delivering tangible results in the short term.

But people are becoming increasingly aware that as free citizens of a country in a transitional mode, nothing can be taken for granted.

That the transition to a democratic system of governance is not a fait accompli; that their role will be critical in rebuilding all key institutions and that the economic situation will be less than satisfactory in the short term but is likely to improve in the medium to long term as the new transparency and accountability of democratic institutions will likely attract more foreign capital.

Most importantly, they realise that overcoming the type of corruption associated with the previous regime can only have a positive impact on the local economy.

Fethi Mansouri