Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly Election

Tunisia will be holding its first ever democratic elections this week, where parties will run to fill the 217 seats of the country’s Constituent Assembly. This new body will be tasked with drafting the constitution for the country.

Seats will be allocated by closed-list proportional representation.   There are 27 domestic constituencies and six out-of-country constituencies.   Party lists are required to employ a gender “zipper” provision, where their lists alternate between male and female candidates. This closed-list, staggered format is considered to be the most beneficial system for women’s representation so Tunisia should be commended for taking such strong steps to ensure that women will be represented in the Constituent Assembly.  It seams that seats will be counted using a Hare quota; a largest remainders system that is the simplest to understand, and tends to favor smaller parties. The average district magnitude is around 6 1/2, but that’s including some of the out-of-country districts that have less seats; in-country constituencies usually have around eight or nine seats.  Those are mid-sized districts that should be fairly proportional.

The nascent political party system in Tunisia is extremely fractured; 110 political party lists had been approved by the new electoral management body, the Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections (ISIE). While this is a very high number of options, the vast majority of parties aren’t running a list in every district.  In reality, there are about eleven parties that even have a semblance of name recognition. It’s difficult to say how the election will go because polling has been banned since October 1st.  Survey blackouts may seem strange, but they are actually common in many countries, including consolidated democracies.  A blackout this early, however, is unusual. The blackout coincides with the official campaign period, October 1st through the 21st.  From September 12 to October 1st, any type of party advertising was banned by ISIE.  The relativity short campaign period, coupled with the survey blackout, probably makes it  difficult for the average Tunisian voter to cast a tactical vote.   In order to cast a tactical vote, a citizen must know the relative strength of each party.  This allows an individual to avoid wasting a vote on a party that has no chance of winning, while picking the best option that has a realistic shot at victory.  In Tunisia, the electoral viability of any given party or candidate in a district will be uncertain. Not only will most voters not know the strengths of parties, however, but they might not know who all the parties even are.

A potential result of this is that every district will elect a large number of parties, with very few getting more than one seat.  The polling that was done prior to the survey blackout showed that voters had little enthusiasm for any particular party. Enadha, a “moderate” Islamist party was receiving the most support, with around 20% of Tunisians planning on supporting them.  In contrast, one poll placed those who support no party at 40%.  I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution by taking the average of the two most recent polls (the only two I found that were conducted in September).  The problem with this is there are still a fair number of undecided that I can’t place anywhere.  While it’s very possible many of these undecideds will stay home on Election Day, many will probably vote for one of the main parties.  Having so little knowledge of where they will go means we have to take this for what it is.  The diagram below shows how each party would fair in a district with nine seats.  I used 100,000 voters and awarded seats based on party performance from the last two polls.

In this scenario, two parties win two seats, while the other winners only get one each. Obviously this is very hypothetical,  but it illustrates a situation – many parties getting few seats –  that may take place.  This isn’t a horrible scenario by itself, but it will mean that the country’s ostensibly very strong gender quota, may not be that effective.  Most party lists will have a man at the top.   This means that in our hypothetical district, only two lists would send their second candidate, and women would only receive two seats out of nine.

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Posted on October 20, 2011, in Democracy, Elections, Electoral Systems, Middle East and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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