Tunisians Seek Real Dialogue, Greater Involvement in Final Stages of Political Transition

June 27, 2013, 12:52 p.m.

Originally posted on NDI.org on June 24th, 2013. As Tunisia prepares for the final stages of drafting a constitution and national elections, citizens are concerned about the direction of the country and want regular and honest communication from political leaders, according to findings from focus group research conducted by NDI in April. Six months past a deadline set by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to complete a constitution, Tunisians are impatient to begin their constitutional democracy. They are uneasy due to their view that politicians place their own self-interests over genuine commitment to the country, and, in particular, they want elected officials to consult with them more. While worried that the country is going in the wrong direction, Tunisians expressed a commitment to participate in the next phase of the transition by voting in the next elections and promoting greater tolerance in Tunisian society. And amidst wrangling within NCA committees over modifications to the third draft constitution released in June, citizens continued to prioritize job creation and measures to alleviate the rising cost of living. The focus group study, conducted Apr. 20–29 with 117 participants from four cities across the country, builds on seven previous rounds of public opinion research conducted by NDI since March 2011. This time, participants discussed their views on the country’s draft constitution, the role of political institutions and expectations for future elections. Key findings included:

  • Citizens are frustrated by political leaders’ unfulfilled electoral promises and the absence of visionary leadership. To rebuild trust with the electorate, citizens want political parties to offer genuine policy solutions coupled with honest apologies for past mistakes.

  • Tunisians believe that citizens and political leaders alike must combine a commitment to patriotism with hard work. Participants expressed a new sense of personal responsibility for bringing about positive change, including social and economic improvements and a more tolerant environment for divergent opinions.

  • Citizens crave a return to order. Freedom of expression, while seen as one of the key gains of the revolution, is also viewed as contributing to political gridlock and disorder. Economic insecurity, administrative inefficiencies and concerns about corruption fuel fatigue with what is seen as chaos and instability in everyday life.

  • Citizens see public outreach by the NCA, including the recent national dialogue process to present the third draft of the constitution, as insufficient and seek a true two-way dialogue. To that end, participants indicated a strong preference for a referendum to “have their say” on the constitution, though some worried that it could delay the progress of the transition.

  • Tunisians are enthusiastic about voting in the next elections. Those who voted in October 2011 NCA elections want to seize this opportunity to choose different candidates and parties, and those who did not vote now appreciate the importance of voting as an avenue to seeing their concerns addressed. As a result, Tunisians are concerned about delays in the milestones required for calling the next elections.

  • Tunisians hold mixed views of women currently serving in the NCA—some believe they were elected only to meet the gender quota—but view positively the potential impact of an increase in the number of women in political life. Participants believe youth have a role to play in politics but are loath to accept young elected leaders.

NDI is sharing the findings with leaders of ruling and opposition political parties, civil society organizations and the government to inform their outreach to citizens and their efforts to develop policy. The research was made possible by funding from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative.

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