Tunisia’s First-Ever Democratic Elections Could Make it a Pioneer for Change in the Mediterranean

Kapitalis (French version)

20 October 2011

By Riccardo Migliori

On Sunday, the Tunisian people will elect 218 of their fellow citizens responsible for drafting the country's new constitution. Drafting a new constitution by a democratically elected body will mark the next stage in the institutionalization of the Tunisian Revolution that started in December last year.

When the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire after enduring continued police harressment, it sparked a transformation in millions of people across the Mediterranean region, where people have been fighting for basic freedoms and democracy ever since.

Now the same people have the chance to make their dream of creating an area of freedom, security and justice in the Mediterranean come true. The same freedom, security and justice for which the young Mohamed Boazizi only could dream.

Just as Tunisia is the country where the Arab Spring began, it is also the country where the people will have the first chance to put democracy into practice. In some countries in the region revolutions are still in progress, while in others, democratic institutions are developing without violent upheavels. In Morocco people will vote on 25 November; Egypt will hold elections later this autumn. But Tunisia is the trailblazer in the region.

Recognizing the significance of this occasion, I take great pride in leading the election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. Over 70 members of parliament from 21 different countries will observe these historic elections.

It is not only Tunisia's position as a pioneer for change and a role model for the region that makes the upcoming elections so interesting. Because of its geographic proximity to and long historical ties, Italy has an enormous interest in political stability in the region. Good economic relations and political co-operation are vital to our own economy, but also necessary to control migration flows. It is important to realize that Tunisia's GDP has steadily gone up in recent years, making it a strategic partner for economic and political co-operation, both for Italy and Europe at large.

Italy and Europe have all the reasons to take a great interest in the course of the elections in Tunisia. To share our experience and to ensure that the elections are free and fair, but also to establish new relationships between our members of parliament and the future leaders of this new democracy.

Considering the geographic proximity of Italy – almost literally a bridge between Europe and the Maghreb – it is not surprising that with 10 parliamentarians from Italy, the Italian delegation forms the largest group in the team of observers I will meet in Tunis this weekend.

The OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization and is known as a standard bearer for international election observation. This is the first time that the organization's Parliamentary Assembly will observe elections in Tunisia. Having participated myself in several election observation missions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Serbia, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Moldova, I know the standards we maintain are very high and I can assure the Tunisian people that we do not come to prejudge the vote but to partner with you for democratic progress.

As observers we remain strictly neutral towards the outcome of the elections. We will thoroughly assess the conduct of the elections and do our best to show how the elections measure up to Tunisia's international commitments, while visiting many polling stations in Tunis, Sfax, Nabeul, Ben Arous, Sousse, Djerba, Tozeur and Gafsa and meeting with representatives of the election authorities and local NGOs. Considering Tunisia was one of the handful of countries present at the inception of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, it is all the more meaningful that Tunisia has invited international observers to come bear witness to their historic transition today.

I have been to Tunisia twice this year and I believe there are many reasons to be optimistic. The richness of the election campaigns and the extraordinary personal stories of the political protagonists – many of whom have spent years in exile or in prison – show a great civic enthusiasm.

When the Iron Curtain fell, Europe's primary focus was towards the East. Now with the imminent democratization of the Maghreb, another wall is falling – the wall between the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A happy outcome of the election process in Tunisia could be the first step in that direction.

Riccardo Migliori is a Member of Parliament in Italy and Vice-President of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. He is also Head of the Italian Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.



Nat Parry

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