Tunisia election plans

A promising step for Tunisia’s (potential) democratic transition is the decision to have the first election following the fall of the dictator be for a constituent assembly. It has been announced that the election will be 24 July.

It is not clear (to me) what either the shape of the emerging party system or the electoral system might be. But one item, on Magherabia.com, offers some hints, in reporting on a conference that took place in Tunis on 3 March.

“After we realised the first miracle, which is the miracle of revolution, we now need to realise a second miracle, which is the miracle of democracy, freedom and peace,” Culture Minister Ezzeddine Bach Chaouch said at the opening of the two-day seminar.

The event was organised by the Kawakibi Democracy Transition Centre (KADEM) in co-operation with the Citizenship Centre for the Promotion of Democracy (Mouwatana).

On the possible party system:

The political map is not clear for the time being, according to Kawakibi Centre President Mohsen Marzouk. “The Left is divided into several factions,” he said.

“In the midst of that, the Islamic current seems to be the only organised entity. In addition, they have several cadres who were living abroad and returned to Tunisia after acquiring several experiences,” Marzouk said. He added that he expects the development of a centre-right faction composed of people opposed to both the radical left and the Islamists.

Now, on the electoral system (not that this is highly enlightening):

They [conference participants] also stressed the need to establish an electoral system that would ensure a fair representation of women, young people and minorities. Contributors added that the new system must ensure that weak parties are not marginalised by a single political party in the next constituent assembly.

In addition, participants called for “cancelling the majority system that contradicts democracy and adopting a list system through individual voting in two rounds or a comprehensive list system of voting”.

I am not quite sure what a list system through individual voting in two rounds might be. Here’s hoping they go with the “comprehensive list system,” by which I would understand PR with a low threshold. It seems the best way for a first-ever democratic election in a setting where the shape of the party system hardly can be known.

(I am filing this, and any future entries on North Africa, under “Euro-Mediterranean” because the spirit of creating a “block” with that title some years ago was to emphasize the geographic and historical continuity of the Mediterranean–all its shores–and Europe. Now, Libya aside, we might even see a democratic community develop around the Great Sea. We can dare to hope, anyway…)

5 thoughts on “Tunisia election plans

  1. There is perhaps an argument for having an extremely low threshold (say, 1%) for the first democratic election to a constituent assembly, then having it rise by 1% at the next four subsequent elections until it is capped at 5%. As MSS notes, a low threshold is the best (List-PR) system when the party system has just emerged. I seem to recollect being told that Israel adopted this system for the first Knesset for this reason, but never got around to changing it (or to actually writing an entrenched Constitution, for that matter…)

  2. It’s not decided yet, but list-PR is high on the list:

    “The Higher Authority for the Achievement of the Revolution Objectives, Political Reform and Democratic Transition carried on … examination of the draft decree-law pertaining to the organization of the National Constituent Assembly’s election.

    During this session devoted to the voting system, most of the attendees placed emphasis on the need to adopt a system of proportional representation by list, “because it encourages political emulation on the basis of social and economic directions and programs, and not of persons, in order to avoid money interference or allegiance to persons.” ”

    (from the press office of the Tunisian PM)

  3. The ‘Higher Authority with the long name’ has chosen districted list-PR.

    Major issues at their last meeting:
    – lustration
    – highest remainder and not highest average
    – parity man/woman (alternating)

    (from the press office of the tunisian PM)

    Not uncommon: no details on the intraparty dimension (open/…/closed list?)

    • IFES says closed lists, with district magnitudes likely to range from 4 to about 8 or 9. The two large governorates (Tunis and Sfax) will be divided into two districts each, combining for 17 and 15 seats respectively, total. Some small governorates will be merged for electoral purposes.*

      This seems sensible. More countries with distrcted PR should arrange things this way to keep the variance in M within bounds.

      Does “highest remainder” mean the same as largest remainder? I assume so. I’ve just never seen the former term. And if so, what quota? The quota makes quite a difference with LR systems. In fact, there is no single “largest remainder” system, whereas I always understand “highest average” to mean D’Hondt. (Or is it also used to describe other divisor methods as well?)

      * Based on a report sent to me.

  4. The press release actually says plus forts restes which I would have translated as largest remainders. Indeed, the French Wikipedia article on proportional representation (Scrutin proportionnel plurinominal) uses the phrase methode du plus fort rest.

    Also, my understanding of largest average (or methode de la plus forte moyenne) is that it includes not only D’Hondt but also Sainte-Laguë as well as other similar methods.

    Google found me this interesting article [1], which has more details including a worked example of Hare and D’Hondt, and the comment that, while the original proposal specified largest remainder, the [political] parties sought to change this to largest average: Faute de consensus, il a fallu recourir à un vote qui a abouti à l’adoption du mode de scrutin de listes avec plus forts restes, favorisant les minorités et plus adapté, selon les experts, à une phase de Constituante. (Failing a consensus, it was necessary to resort to a vote which led to the adoption of the method of largest remainders, favoring minorities and better adapted, according to the experts, to the Constituent Assembly phase. — my very rough translation.)

    The example posits electing five representatives[2] from a population of 130,000; the lists have received A:36,500 B:21,000 C:17,500 D:11,500 E:11,000 F:10,500 G:9,000 H:8,500 I:4,500. D’Hondt allocates [A:3 B:1 C:1]; Hare [A:1 B:1 C:1 D:1 E:1]. It should be noted that, with Hare, if list A had sufficient confidence and discipline, it could split into two roughly similar-sized sublists and achieve a better result. Alternatively, the hypothetical district could have chosen Sainte-Laguë, which would also allocate [A:2 B:1 C:1 D:1]. But perhaps the experts didn’t want to get into so many details. Experts can be like that.

    The article also says that the proposal would divide Tunisia into 26 districts on the approximate basis of 60,000 people per representative, but with a minimum of four representatives, even for the smallest districts “which barely have 120,000 inhabitants”. I’m not sure how this works out to 260 seats, or even 200. According to Wikipedia, the population of Tunisia is 11,245,284, which would be 187 regular 60,000-person-sized seats; that plus seven additional seats[3] for underpopulated districts would come to 194.

    For what it’s worth, I agree that a Constituent Assembly needs to be particularly responsive to minorities, and I do wish the Tunisians the best of luck with their project.

    [1] I know absolutely nothing about this publication. It’s not an endorsement.

    [2] The article says six, but the worked computation is for five. The discrepancy between systems in the case of M=6 would be less marked: D’Hondt gives [A:3 B:1 C:1 D:1] and Hare gives [A:2 B:1 C:1 D:1 E:1], as does Sainte-Laguë.

    [3] The value 7 comes from a chart provided by IFES about the 2009 distribution of parliamentary seats, which I’m guessing is roughly the same division into 26 districts as is currently being proposed.

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