The Carter Center established a presence in Tunisia in 2011 and observed both the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections and the constitution-making process that culminated in the adoption of the constitution in January 2014. The Center’s activities shifted in June 2014 with the formal launch of an election observation mission for the 2014 presidential and legislative elections. The Carter Center concluded that the elections were particularly important in consolidating the country’s democratic gains since the 2011 revolution. The polls were the first held under the framework of the new constitution and offered Tunisians the first opportunity to vote for a democratically elected legislature and president since its independence in 1956.
This is an excerpt from the final report, which is available in full in English, French, and Arabic here.
Tunisia’s 2014 elections came nearly three years after the ouster of an authoritarian regime and their successful conduct represents a key step in the country’s democratic transition. Voters demonstrated their ongoing commitment to the democratic transition as they cast ballots in all three elections. The polls were conducted in a calm, orderly and transparent manner. The results lay the groundwork for the implementation of the new constitution and establishment of stable and legitimate democratic institutions. The Tunisian people overcame significant challenges to reach these milestones, which are critical to the country’s consolidation of democratic governance.
The completion of this electoral cycle represents a successful end to a long and difficult transition period for Tunisia beginning with the so called “Jasmine Revolution” and the election of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in 2011. During this period, Tunisia adopted a new constitution, overcame several political crises that threatened to end the democratic experiment before it had even begun, and elected a new legislature and president in the first democratic and transparent elections in the country’s history.
Political party leaders and the NCA took significant steps to prepare the effective conduct of the elections, creating a permanent independent election management body, the Independent High Authority for Elections (or the ISIE, as it is known by its French acronym) to conduct the elections, reviewing and seeking consensus on the members elected to the ISIE Council, and adopting a new legal framework governing electoral procedures.
The legal framework for the 2014 legislative and presidential elections is mainly comprised of the January 2014 Constitution, the 2014 electoral law, the law on the ISIE, and the law related to the freedom of audiovisual communication. Although Tunisia’s electoral legal framework provides a solid basis for the conduct of elections consistent with international and regional standards as well as best practices, certain areas of the legal framework could be improved.
For example, due to the political pressures within the NCA during the drafting of the electoral law, some provisions of the electoral law are ambiguous or inconclusive, which left it to the ISIE to provide clarifications and supplement various provisions of the electoral law through regulations. The adoption of numerous regulations by the ISIE, while necessary, resulted in the legislative framework being dispersed throughout several documents. This made it difficult for electoral stakeholders to access all applicable rules in one consolidated location, sometimes undermining legal certainty. Legislators should consider consolidating all electoral provisions into a comprehensive electoral code.
Political leaders and NCA members debated the dates of the legislative and presidential elections and the order in which they would take place at great length. After weeks of blockage, the parties eventually reached an agreement on the sequencing of presidential and legislative elections: legislative elections would take place first, followed by the presidential, with no overlap of dates between them. In accordance with the transitional provisions of the law on the ISIE, in June 2014, the NCA announced the legislative elections for Oct. 26 and the first round of the presidential election for Nov. 23, 2014.
The ISIE coped with various challenges, including institutional, logistical and political, which put pressure on the election administration. One of its main challenges was to establish its administrative apparatus at national and regional levels to ensure the success of the elections. Key to this process were the recruitment of an executive director to run the secretariat and make administrative decisions; a clear division of labor within the ISIE Council as well as between the Council and its executive body; a transparent decision-making process; and a sound communication and information strategy. On all of these accounts, and in spite of the experience and institutional knowledge from the 2011 NCA elections, the ISIE struggled to adopt a consistent approach. Unfortunately, many difficulties experienced by the ISIE were similar to those experienced by the electoral management body in 2011, including failure to communicate effectively and transparently with electoral stakeholders.
Although the ISIE struggled with aspects of transparency and confidence building, Carter Center observers found that the ISIE delivered well-run and orderly elections. This in turn, helped to ensure a peaceful transition of power. In an effort to build confidence among stakeholders and improve the administration of the elections, the ISIE also took commendable steps to consult with relevant stakeholders between the legislative election and the two rounds of the presidential election. Electoral authorities organized a series of lessons learned sessions with key staff, including the Regional Authorities for Elections (IRIEs), polling staff trainers, the heads of polling centers and poll workers, which helped to improve their performance in each successive stage of the electoral process.
Despite significant challenges in organization and communication, the ISIE conducted a comprehensive and inclusive voter registration process, ensuring that Tunisian citizens could participate in the elections. The ISIE, the IRIEs, civil society organizations, and political parties worked effectively together to ensure that all Tunisian citizens who desired to vote in the elections had an opportunity to register. Nearly one million additional Tunisians registered to vote during the voter registration period, bringing the total number of registered voters for the 2014 elections to over five million. As required by the legal framework, Tunisia adopted an active voter registration system for the 2014 elections using the lists of voluntarily registered voters from the 2011 NCA elections as the basis for the 2014 voter register. In addition, as the legal framework allows for overseas voting for both the legislative and presidential elections, the ISIE reached out to Tunisians residing abroad.
The ISIE established a voter registration center in each of the 27 electoral constituencies in Tunisia and the six constituencies abroad and hired 2,500 registration workers to facilitate the registration process. In addition, 597 fixed registration offices and 275 mobile offices were set up. In parallel, and with the help of the relevant state institutions, the ISIE cleaned the existing voter lists from 2011, removing deceased voters and those voters prohibited from voting by law.
The initial voter registration period, which was scheduled for June 23 to July 22, was extended by one week after criticism from political parties and civil society organizations (CSOs) that voter registration efforts were insufficient. The ISIE opened a second registration period from Aug. 5-26 targeting specific categories of under-represented voters, expanding working hours and allowing regional electoral authorities more flexibility to decide on the schedule and locations of mobile registration centers.
The ISIE also diversified and increased the possibilities for Tunisians living abroad to register after the legislative elections as the number of registered voters abroad remained low. Several CSOs claimed that thousands of voters abroad and in Tunisia were disenfranchised as they could not find their names on the voter lists. The ISIE opened a one-week window on Nov. 2-8 for these voters to reinsert their names if they could show that they had previously registered. The ISIE stated that the organization of registration for Tunisian voters abroad was problematic and that if the allocation of seats for representation of Tunisians abroad for future elections was to be maintained, other methods of voting, such as proxy or mail voting, should be introduced.
Both the legislative and presidential elections offered voters a genuine choice among a diverse group of candidates. The ISIE approved some 9,500 candidates for legislative office. Over 1,500 candidate lists were submitted to the IRIEs for the legislative elections, of which 1,327 were approved. Parties submitted 61 percent of the lists, while the rest were divided between independent lists (26 percent) and coalitions (13 percent). Although the law requires that all electoral lists alternate between female and male candidates, it does not mandate horizontal parity, nor the appointment of female candidates to the head of the lists. As a result, women headed only one-tenth of the approved lists, although 47 percent of the total number of candidates were female. Sixty-eight women were elected to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, representing 32 percent of the total number of the Assembly members. In light of Tunisia’s progressive aspirations regarding gender equality in the new constitution and the electoral law, Tunisian legislators should consider additional measures to ensure equal participation of women in elected office.
Over 70 applicants registered for the presidential election before the Sept. 22 deadline. Among the applicants were five women, three members of the NCA, six businessmen, and three ex-ministers who served in the Ben Ali regime. The ISIE rejected nearly two-thirds of the applications for not meeting candidate endorsement requirements, including the electronic submission of signatures in the required format and the required financial deposit. Twenty-seven candidates, including one of the five women who submitted applications, were confirmed on Sept. 30.
The requirement to collect supporting signatures proved problematic in its implementation stage because of the alleged use of fraudulent signatures by several presidential candidates and a lack of clear provisions in the electoral code regarding who was responsible for investigating claims of fraudulent signatures. The ISIE claimed that it was not within its mandate to investigate the falsification of names and data, and that those people whose names had been fraudulently registered had legal standing to file a complaint, as provided by the law. The ISIE set up a call center to allow voters to verify whether their names appeared in the endorsement lists without permission.
The Center recommends a review of the legal provisions regarding the examination of candidate registration and an expansion of the time limit for the ISIE and the IRIEs to review the documents of presidential and legislative elections candidates. The law should specify who is responsible for verifying the signatures.
Candidates were able to campaign freely throughout the campaign period and the rights to freedom of expression and association were respected. Although ISIE reported over 5,000 campaign violations during the three electoral stages, the large majority of the infractions was minor and did not have a substantial impact on the campaign or the electoral process. Legal restrictions on campaigning and campaign finance for the legislative elections proved restrictive and should be reviewed to allow for the conduct of an effective campaign.
Although increasing tension between the candidates and polarizing political rhetoric between the two rounds of the presidential election led the ISIE to take measures to stem aggressive and tense discourse, the campaign environment remained relatively calm for all three elections in spite of persistent security threats.
The legislative election campaign started officially on Oct. 4, and lasted three weeks. In the last week before the election, electoral meetings increased four-fold and the campaign environment intensified. Carter Center observer attended 58 rallies, ranging in scope from five people at the smallest to more than 10,000 at the largest. The Center observed only eight rallies with more than 1,000 participants.
Many political parties conducted activities before the official start date of the campaign, characterizing these efforts as regular party activities. Some acknowledged that they engaged in campaigning before Oct. 4. Methods of pre-campaigning included going door-to-door, distributing fliers, organizing political cafes, canvassing in markets, and setting up tents or tables and chairs in key strategic locations.
Independent lists, as well as smaller parties and coalitions claimed that audiovisual and print media were dominated by political party messaging from large parties, including Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes. Carter Center observers reported that the requirement to notify the IRIE two days prior to each event was not always respected by candidate lists, with some not even aware of this requirement. This resulted in many events being held without prior notification and some meetings cancelled by electoral authorities because the organizers failed to provide the required advanced notification.
While tensions between parties existed throughout the electoral period, they did not manifest themselves during the official legislative campaign. The Carter Center observed that even though many electoral events took place in the same locations simultaneously, no altercations between party activists occurred.
First Round of the Presidential Election
The October legislative elections helped shape the dynamics of the presidential campaign as candidates and parties redefined their positions on the political scene based on the results of the legislative election. Some candidates withdrew from the race and others received the support of parties whose nominees were rejected during the registration process or who had withdrawn. As per the electoral law, candidates who withdrew from the race after the official deadline remained on the ballot paper.
As during the legislative elections, the first two weeks of the first round presidential campaign was characterized by a limited number of events and a lack of general excitement with only a few candidates holding rallies during the first week of the campaign. The pace intensified in the last 10 days of the campaign as events and public outreach increased. The campaign centered on the big cities along the coast, and with the exception of Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid, there were few or no events in some of the southern governorates.
Second Round of the Presidential Election
The campaign for the second round began officially on Dec. 9. Both candidates in the second round, Mr. Marzouki and Mr. Essebi, were present in public and on social media in the days immediately following the first round, particularly through appearances in foreign media. The beginning of the campaign was characterized by rising tensions between the two candidates and their supporters. Carter Center observers noted some instances in which both candidates altered their campaign program as a result of the tensions. However, for the most part, the heightened tensions did not adversely affect the candidates’ abilities to campaign freely.
The two candidates employed very different campaign strategies. Marzouki toured governorates and organized campaign appearances in and around public places such as markets, mosques and sports palaces presenting him as the bulwark against the return of the Ben Ali regime, while championing national unity and the fight against poverty. Caid Essebsi staged small, more intimate gatherings, mainly around Tunis, with targeted groups of voters and selected media. Caid Essebsi was portrayed as a unifier of all Tunisians, regardless of background. There was no televised public debate as Caid Essebsi refused an invitation to participate. Separate interviews with the candidates were broadcast on the two national television channels in the last days of the campaign.
In order to contain the risk of violence, the ISIE Council took measures, some overly restrictive, to encourage a clean campaign environment. The ISIE also took action to calm the rhetoric between the two candidates, reminding them of their commitments to a candidate charter of honor signed in July to ensure democratic, free, pluralistic, fair, and transparent elections.
All three election days were well administered and took place in a calm, orderly, and transparent manner throughout the country. Election observers reported that many Tunisians waited patiently in long lines to exercise their right to vote in all three elections. Observers also found that the atmosphere inside the polling stations was professional, organized, and transparent. Minor irregularities were reported in a limited number of polling stations visited by Carter Center observers, including insufficient instructions to voters on how to vote and illegal campaigning outside polling stations on all three election days.
The overall assessment of Carter Center observers for all three elections was that the closings were calm, organized, and efficient. Although the counting process was not as smooth as the voting in some stations observed, and in some isolated cases assessed as less than adequate, there was no indication that this affected the results of the count. Ballot sorting, counting, and verification procedures were followed in all observations made by Carter Center observers.
In all polling stations observed, the completed minutes of the sorting and counting were publicly posted before the minutes were transferred to the tabulation centers. Candidate representatives were present in all of the observed polling stations, and Carter Center observers reported that they had full access to the process.
The tabulation process was delayed during the legislative elections and the first round of the presidential polls by a failure to transfer the necessary electoral materials from the polling stations to the tabulation centers in a timely manner. Observers also noted a lack of uniformity in how tabulation centers dealt with this challenge. In some centers, the vote tabulation began immediately when material started to arrive from the polling stations while in others, the staff waited until all of the material from all polling stations arrived or until the following day before beginning tabulation procedures.
With a few exceptions, observers described the overall atmosphere in the tabulations centers as orderly and calm. Unfortunately, most election observers were not able to monitor the details of the tabulation process effectively during the legislative and first round presidential elections because they were not allowed floor access to the work area and tabulation center staff. In the few tabulation centers where the Carter Center observers were able to make meaningful assessments of the procedures, they characterized the process as slow but well-managed and professional. In ten observed cases, no candidate agents were present and in three centers, there were no citizen observers.
In the second round of the presidential elections, Carter Center observers visited twenty tabulation centers and assessed that it was an efficient and orderly process. The process of receiving and verifying results was better organized and more efficient compared with the first two election days. The overwhelming majority of observers reported that the ISIE had provided far better access to the proceedings than in the previous round and that they were able to make meaningful observations of all parts of the process. TCC observers rated the implementation of procedures and the electoral environment positively for all centers visited. Furthermore, tabulation staff was cooperative, provided information and answered questions. Candidate agents were present and actively participated in the process in 17 of 20 stations visited by the observers.
An effective complaints adjudication system can lend credibility to an electoral process, providing a peaceful alternative mechanism to violent post-election responses. The right to legal remedy is provided for, in compliance with the principles of judicial review before the courts. The courts conducted their responsibilities in an effective and timely manner in all three elections. It is commendable that the Administrative Tribunal functioned in a transparent manner and supplied the Carter Center with copies of all decisions. Based on the Center’s analysis of decisions, the court demonstrated a considerable degree of impartiality, issuing its rulings with a sound evidentiary and legal basis, and within the time limits set by the law.
Appeals against the preliminary results are filed with the Appellate Chambers of the Administrative Tribunal within three days of publication of the results, with an appeal to the plenary assembly of the Administrative Tribunal within 48 hours of notification of Appellate Chamber rulings. The law does not allow individual voters to file remarks regarding potential malpractices or irregularities at the polling station, thus denying their right to an effective remedy.
Results of the Legislative Elections
The ISIE announced the preliminary results of the legislative election on Oct. 30 and final results on Nov. 21. The broad based secular party, Nidaa Tounes, won the greatest number of seats in the assembly, 86, with the Islamist party Ennahdha coming in second with 69 seats. The Free Patriotic Union won 16 seats, the Popular Front 15 and Afek Tounes eight. The remaining 39 seats were won by 12 different political parties with no single party gaining more than 3 seats.
The Administrative Tribunal received a total of 44 complaints against the preliminary results. All except one were rejected by the court. A decision by the ISIE to cancel one of three seats obtained by Nidaa Tounes in the constituency of Kasserine was overturned by the tribunal. The tribunal ruled that the electoral code does not foresee a partial cancellation of results and therefore the ISIE did not have the authority to remove one of the party’s seats despite the ISIE’s finding that campaign violations had a serious impact on the results within the constituency. Although the ISIE acted credibly in seeking sanctions for electoral offenses, the Administrative Tribunal acted in accordance with Tunisian law, in its overturning of the ISIE’s decision.
Results of the First Round of the Presidential Election
The preliminary results of the first round of the presidential election were announced on Nov. 25 and the final results on Dec. 8. Candidates Marzouki and Caid Essebsi advanced to the second round. A total number of nine complaints challenging the results were submitted to the Administrative Tribunal, eight of them by Marzouki. All of the complaints were rejected by the tribunal.
Results of the Second Round of the Presidential Election
Preliminary results were announced on Dec. 22 and final results on Dec. 29. Beji Caid Essebsi was declared the winner with 55 per cent of the vote. No complaints were filed against the results of the second round despite Marzouki’s initial announcement that he believed he had lost because of fraud and would file a challenge.
In order to improve the electoral process for future elections, The Carter Center recommends the following actions to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP):
- Address gaps and inconsistencies in the electoral code and consolidate all legislation relating to elections in to one comprehensive code;
- Detail and clarify the roles of the varying institutions involved in the election process in the electoral code;
- Review the restrictions on campaigning and campaign finance to ensure parties and candidates can conduct meaningful campaigns without resorting to violations of the electoral code; and
- Ensure that electoral dispute mechanisms are available to all stakeholders including individual voters.
The Center recommends that the ISIE:
- Strengthen its organizational and management capacities;
- Increase the transparency of its work and develop a more effective communication strategy with relevant stakeholders and the general public;
- In conjunction with the government, develop voter and democracy education programs to be conducted year round for the public and in schools; and
- Draft, vote on, and distribute regulations and instructions in a timely manner, and improve communication with polling staff to ensure uniform application.
The Center also recommends that political parties increase the number of women in their structures and in leadership positions and that civil society continue to work with the ISIE to assist them in their efforts to educate voters on the importance of voting and electoral procedures.