Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Democracy in Tunisia and Morocco produces Islamist governments

While much attention has been paid to the recent elections in Egypt, the recent elections in Tunisia and Morocco have gone relatively unnoticed.

As reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation on October 27, 2011:

Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party has won the country's first democratic elections after the Arab Spring uprisings, officials say.

Official results show Ennahda won more than 41% of the vote, securing 90 seats in the 217-member parliament.

Ennahda has already said it wants to form a new government within a month.

Violent protests broke out in the central town of Sidi Bouzid after the election results were announced, witnesses say.

Reports say police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of people. They were protesting against the cancellation of seats won by the Popular List party in six electoral districts because of "financial irregularities".

The Popular List party, led by a businessman, had won a number of seats in Sidi Bouzid.

The town is the birthplace of the uprising that erupted nine months ago, after a young unemployed man set himself on fire. The uprising led to President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali being thrown out of office.

Reassuring investors

Tunisia's election chief Kamel Jandoubi presented the results of last Sunday's poll at a news conference in Tunis on Thursday night.

We will continue this revolution to realise its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous... Tunisia is for everyone”

Mr Jandoubi said that the Congress for the Republic (CPR) - the country's biggest secularist party - was the runner-up in the elections with nearly 14%, winning 30 seats in parliament.

The leftist Ettakatol party came third with almost 10%, giving them 21 seats.

Ennahda, which was banned under the former regime, says it has modelled itself on the governing AK party in Turkey, another Muslim-majority country which has remained a secular state.

Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi pledged on Thursday the rights of every Tunisian would be protected by the new authorities.

"We will continue this revolution to realise its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous, in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone," Mr Ghannouchi told a crowd of supporters, Reuters reports.

Ennahda has sought to reassure secularists and investors, nervous about the prospect of Islamists holding power in one of the Arab world's most liberal countries, by saying it would not ban alcohol, stop tourists wearing bikinis on the beaches or impose Islamic banking.

Foreign tourism is a major source of revenue for Tunisia.

But despite the reassurances, Ennahda's victory is causing concern in some parts of Tunisia, who fear the party could later change their policies, the BBC's Chloe Arnold reports.

Ennahda has put forward its number two, Secretary General Hamadi Jebali, as the next prime minister. Coalition talks with the CPR and Ettakatol parties have already begun.

Mr Jebali, 62, is an engineer by training and a former journalist. He was a co-founder of Ennahda.

The polls were Tunisia's first democratic elections, and followed the fall of President Ben Ali, who was overthrown in January after mass demonstrations. He had been in power for 23 years.

A coalition government has been formed, as reported by The Associated Press on November 22, 2011:

The main winners of Tunisia's elections have announced the shape of the country's interim government ahead of the first meeting of its newly-elected assembly.

On 25 October, Tunisians elected a body to write a new constitution nine months after they overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular uprising.

As the country that set off the wave of pro-democracy movements that engulfed the Arab region, Tunisia's efforts to build a democracy are being closely watched around the world.

The Islamist Ennahda Party won the most seats and partnered with the liberal Congress for the Republic and the left-of-centre Ettakatol Party to form a ruling coalition and divide up the top posts between them.

Ennahda will take the powerful prime minister's position while veteran rights activist Moncef Marzouki will become the interim president.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar of Ettakatol will head the assembly, which has a year to write the constitution before new elections are held.

The three leaders did not elaborate on who would fill the remaining government posts but said that they would also go to prominent figures of civil society.

A number of ministers from the outgoing transitional government will also appear in the government.

The plan for the new government will be presented on Tuesday to the inaugural meeting of the new council, which will first vote on the new president, who will then appoint the prime minister and ask him to form a government.

The coalition holds a comfortable majority of 139 seats in the 217-member body.

The North African country of 10 million people has been essentially a one-party state in the half-century since it won its independence from France.

A month later, elections were held in Morocco. As reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation on November 27, 2011:

Morocco's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) has won the most seats in Friday's parliamentary elections, final results confirm.

The interior ministry said the PJD took 107 out of 395 seats, giving it the right to lead a government.

Its likely coalition partner, the nationalist Istiqlal party, came second, with 60 seats.

The poll is part of reforms which King Mohamed VI hopes will defuse protests prompted by the Arab Spring.

"This is a clear victory, but we will need alliances in order to work together," PJD secretary-general Abdelilah Benkirane told the AFP news agency after the official results were announced.

Under a new constitution adopted in July, King Mohamed must now appoint the prime minister from the party which wins the most seats, rather than naming whomever he pleases.

But the king still has the final say on issues of defence, security and religion.

'Victory for democracy'

Morocco's current Prime Minister, Abbas Al Fassi, said on Saturday his Istiqlal party was ready to enter into a coalition with the PJD.

"The PJD's victory is a victory for democracy," he told Reuters.

It comes a month after the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won elections in nearby Tunisia.

The PJD has said it will promote Islamic finance. However, it has avoided focusing on issues such as alcohol and headscarves for women, in a country which attracts large numbers of Western tourists.

Historian and political analyst Maati Monjib told the Associated Press that Moroccans linked Islam and political dignity.

"There is a big problem of dignity in the Arab world and the people see the Islamists as a way of getting out of the sense of subjugation and inferiority towards the West."

'Strong signal'

The Interior Ministry said 45.4% of the electorate had turned out to vote.

About 13.5 million Moroccans are eligible to vote. Although the turnout was an improvement on the 37% who took part in the 2007 election, it was less than the 51.6% in 2002.

The pro-reform February 20 movement, responsible for the protests staged just before the king announced his plans to reform the constitution, had called for a boycott of the vote.

"This [low turnout] sends a strong signal to authorities that Moroccans are not buying the proposed reforms," Najib Chawki, an activist with the movement, told Reuters.

"We will not give up until our demands are met," he added.

See also my previous post on King Mohammed's offer to give up some of his powers. Under Mohammed VI and his predecessor, Hassan II, Morocco has had a reputation for tolerance toward Jews and Christians. Let's hope and pray that this will continue.

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