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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

Following the one-year anniversary of Tunisia’s elections for its National Constituent Assembly (NCA) – the first polls of the Arab Spring – citizens are frustrated by political infighting and the lack of progress on key political and economic issues, according to a new round of NDI focus group research.

Over the past year, members of the NCA have been working to draft the country’s new constitution while an interim coalition government has struggled to respond to citizens’ concerns over the increasing cost of living, high unemployment, and social and political tensions that have frequently erupted in violence throughout the country. Tunisians believe, according to the focus group results, that NCA members are not being accountable to their constituents and have failed to live up to their election promises, collecting large salaries while neglecting their primary responsibility to write the constitution.

Citizens would like lawmakers to consult with them more often, and they want the NCA and other elected officials to do a better job communicating progress on the new constitution.

The focus groups, conducted Oct. 30 - Nov. 7 with 121 participants from four cities across the country, build on six previous rounds of public opinion research conducted by NDI since March 2011. Respondents discussed the extent to which the political transition is fulfilling their expectations, their views of political parties and institutions, and their priorities going forward. Key findings include:

  • The majority of participants believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. They report that their quality of life has declined since the October 2011 elections. Tunisians put a higher priority on improvements in their daily lives – including economic development, education reform and security – over progress drafting the constitution and preparing for a next round of elections.
  • Trust in political parties is at an all-time low as Tunisians expressed disappointment with both the ruling coalition and opposition parties, which they view as equally unqualified and unprepared. Participants complained that parties focus more on serving their own interests than on representing citizen concerns.
  • A minority cited freedoms of expression and association as signs of positive progress, though concerns are growing about political biases in the Tunisian media. Some participants also saw progress in citizens’ ability to oversee the work of government in ways never possible during the former regime.
  • A majority believe the constitution drafting process is off course, and many participants doubt the NCA can reach a consensus on the document within a reasonable timeframe. Like their representatives in the NCA, Tunisians are divided in their preference for a presidential or a parliamentary system.
  • Participants stressed that addressing corruption and reforming public administration is linked to increasing productivity and the country’s economic outlook. Serious attempts to counter administrative corruption and increase government transparency would help increase citizen confidence in the country’s leaders, they said.

NDI is sharing the findings with leaders of ruling and opposition political parties, civil society organizations and the government to inform the policy-making process and encourage increased responsiveness to citizens’ interests and needs. The research was made possible by funding from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative.

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Published Dec. 20, 2012