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NDI

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.

Tunisia

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In January 2011, a spontaneous citizen-led movement toppled the regime of authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ushering in an unprecedented political transition. Under the leadership of transitional governing institutions, political actors agreed on a broad framework for a democratic transition, including elections for a National Constituent Assembly (NCA), tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.

On Oct. 23, 2011, Tunisians seized their first opportunity to make free choices at the ballot box, electing 217 members of the NCA. For the first time in Tunisia’s history, an independent election commission organized the poll and adopted measures to support citizen aspirations for free and fair elections. NDI led an international observation mission during the elections, deploying 47 observers to regions across Tunisia to observe voting and counting. While the delegation noted an array of administrative problems, including flaws in the voter and candidate registration process, NDI characterized the election as an “extraordinary achievement” after decades of authoritarian rule.

While the progress achieved to date has been commendable, Tunisia faces a wide array of challenges in assuring a steady, continuous democratic transition. While the one-year deadline to complete the constitution has passed, the NCA continues work on a draft constitution, while the country struggles to address the challenges of unemployment, internal insecurity, and disparities in regional development. Political parties and civil society have a vital role to play in influencing decision-making to respond to these priorities as the transition moves forward through the finalization of the constitution and the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections.

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In the wake of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, NDI is leading programs to foster a more competitive and representative political environment where political parties compete effectively on behalf of citizens’ interests, and where civil society plays an active role in overseeing the political process. Since 2000, NDI has supported Tunisian democrats in their efforts to promote a more inclusive and participatory political environment.

Political Party Development

Under the tightly controlled political context of the Ben Ali regime, politics was dominated by the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party, and the activities of genuine opposition parties were severely restrained. During this time, NDI led targeted programs to strengthen parties as proponents of a more open political system. In post-revolution Tunisia, more than 160 political parties are benefitting from newfound freedoms and competing to represent citizens in elected government. In a short timeframe, these parties are establishing internal structures, defining platforms, recruiting members, competing in elections, forming coalitions and learning how to negotiate the contours of a new constitution within the NCA.

NDI works to assist parties with their efforts to ensure a democratic political system firmly anchored to principles of participation, inclusion and accountability. In the weeks following the revolution, NDI invited senior political leaders from other countries that had undergone a transition to democracy to share insights with Tunisian parties. As parties prepared for the NCA elections, NDI experts led consultations and workshops around the country on internal organization, strategic communication, campaign strategy, candidate training, women’s political participation and party pollwatching. 

As the transition continues following elections, NDI’s programs aim to reinforce ties between parties and citizens through public forums and debate. Through both consultations with individual political parties and multiparty forums, NDI works to help parties improve their internal structures and processes, develop cohesive media and communications strategies, and effectively engage with citizens. As parties increasingly turn their focus toward the next elections, NDI is assisting them to design campaign strategies.

NDI puts particular emphasis on assisting Tunisian youth and women in achieving greater responsibility within their parties.  NDI has assisted women from several parties in developing women’s wings, spearheading voter outreach efforts and enhancing their leadership skills. With support from NDI, for example, leading women from one party led a successful campaign to adopt a 20 percent quota for women and youth in party structures and to create a women’s commission. NDI also leads seminars for young party activists to empower them to work together to advocate for greater attention to youth concerns, including more participation in the political process.

Strengthening Civil Society

Before January 2011, only a handful of Tunisian civil society organizations (CSOs) were active and independent. NDI supported the work of a small number of independent CSOs pursuing advocacy campaigns on issues related to women’s roles in Tunisian society. The Institute is now working with Tunisian CSOs to help them oversee the transition process and act as a counterweight to political parties and government. NDI implemented a nationwide initiative to support CSOs’ efforts to monitor the 2011 NCA elections. With the Institute’s assistance, a coalition of CSOs fielded more than 2,000 observers to monitor voting across the country. Following the 2011 elections, NDI has continued to support civic organizing through regular local roundtables to engage citizens on their core concerns. The Institute also works with national associations that aim to monitor the political process, including the work of legislators on the constitution and future electoral framework. In advance of presidential and legislative elections anticipated for 2014, NDI is again supporting CSOs’ efforts to monitor electoral processes.

Focus Group Research

To address the deficit of publicly available information on citizens’ views in Tunisia, NDI conducts qualitative public opinion studies on a regular basis. NDI shares the findings with political parties to assist them in developing targeted messages that resonate with Tunisians’ priorities. The Institute also holds roundtables with CSOs at the local level to promote broader discussion of the issues raised in the research. Through these focus groups, NDI has found that citizens consistently rank the economy and security as top areas of concern. Focus group respondents express frustration with the slow pace of political progress and with their elected leaders, but they celebrate expanded freedoms of association and expression. Despite the challenges facing the country in its transition, Tunisians remain committed to democracy and seek new avenues for political participation between elections.

Contact Information

For more information about these programs, use our contact form or contact:

Washington, D.C.
Nicholas Collins, Program Officer
ncollins@ndi.org

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Middle East Parliamentarians Discuss Legislating, Budgeting and Women’s Political Participation in Washington, Richmond Visits03/07/2014
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Tunisia's Aswat Nisaa to Receive NDI's 2014 Madeleine K. Albright Grant02/28/2014
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Statement by Leslie Campbell Before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs: "Transition at a Crossroads: Tunisia Three Years After the Revolution"12/04/2013
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Tunisia Campaign School Helps Aspiring Politicians across the Middle East and North Africa05/08/2013
Tunisians Frustrated by Political Infighting, Lack of Progress12/20/2012
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Young North African Party Members Experience U.S. Election Campaigns and Voting11/20/2012
Youth Party Members From Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to Witness U.S. Elections Firsthand11/01/2012
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International Visitors Share Experiences on Organizing Debates10/22/2012
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New Public Opinion Research Finds Growing Frustration Across Tunisia08/08/2012
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Tunisians Study Examples of Coalition Governing07/20/2012
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Tunisian Women Worry Gains Made During Revolution May Be Slipping06/07/2012
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Tunisians Hold High Expectations for Jobs, Constitution, Opinion Research Finds01/26/2012
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Middle East Activists, Albright and Isaacson Discuss What’s Next for the Arab Spring11/08/2011
NDI E-news: Women's Leadership, Zambia, Focus Group Research | October 201110/21/2011
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NDI Fields International Observation Mission for Tunisian Constituent Assembly Elections10/18/2011
Tunisia Pro-Peace Rally
Tunisians Want Politicians to Address Jobs, Security as First Democratic Elections Approach10/04/2011
Protesters march to downtown Tunis. Banner reads "We will not return from the Ministry of Youth without a job."
Opinion Research Shows Tunisians Concerned About The Future07/14/2011
Tunisia Protests Against Regional Discrimination
Focus Groups in Tunisia Reveal Young People’s Hopes for Democratic Transition04/20/2011
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Tunisian Political Parties Learn from Transition Experiences of other Democracies03/29/2011
NDI Experts on the Middle East and North Africa in the Press02/04/2011
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Published Publication Title Author
03/21/2014 Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly Gender Assessment
Report
National Democratic Institute
12/04/2013 Statement by Leslie Campbell Before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs: "Transition at a Crossroads: Tunisia Three Years After the Revolution"
Statement
Leslie Campbell
06/24/2013 Prioritizing Patriotism: Tunisian Citizens Express Their Views
Focus Group Report
National Democratic Institute
05/08/2013 Campaign Skills Handbook - Middle East and North Africa Regional Campaign Schools
Handbook
Shannon O'Connell, Samantha Smoot, Sally Abi Khalil
12/12/2012 Confidence Gap: Citizen Priorities on the One-Year Anniversary of the National Constituent Assembly Elections (Tunisia)
Focus Group Report
Nicole Rowsell and Asma Ben Yahia
07/27/2012 Promises Vs. Performance: Tunisian Attitudes Toward Government and Elected Leadership
Focus Group Report
Nicole Rowsell, Asma Ben Yahia
05/01/2012 Women's Political Participation in Tunisia after the Revolution, Findings from Focus Groups in Tunisia
Focus Group Report
Gabriella Borovsky and Asma Ben Yahia
02/17/2012 Final Report on the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly Election
Report
National Democratic Institute
01/26/2012 Revolution to Reform: Citizen Expectations on the One-Year Anniversary of the Tunisian Uprising
Focus Group Report
Nicole Rowsell, Asma Ben Yahia
10/24/2011 NDI Tunisia Preliminary Election Statement
Statement
National Democratic Institute
09/30/2011 Framing the Future: Citizen Attitudes about Electoral and Constitution Drafting Processes
Focus Group Report
Nicole Rowsell, Asma Ben Yahia
07/14/2011 Imagining the Road Ahead: Citizen Attitudes About Tunisia and the Constituent Assembly Election Period
Focus Group Report
Nicole Rowsell, Ian T. Woodward
04/20/2011 Voices of a Revolution: Conversations with Tunisia’s Youth
Focus Group
Nicholas Collins, National Democratic Institute
09/01/2010 Confidence, Capacity, Connections: A Young Woman's Guide to Leadership (Now available in Chinese)
Manual|Handbook
Gabriella Borovsky, Sarah Cherrabi El Alaoui, Megan Doherty
12/01/2008 NDI Reports: A Review of the Activities of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
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National Democratic Institute