Steps away from democracy
Tunisia is the only Arab country that became a democracy after the 2011 uprisings. However, in July 2021, President Kais Saied dismissed the Prime Minister, suspended the Parliament and took over the duties of the public prosecutor. The country has slid towards authoritarianism as the President concentrates power on himself and weakens the independence of the judiciary and electoral authorities. In March 2022, the President dissolved the Parliament. New parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held as late as in December 2022, which is a violation of the country’s Constitution. A referendum on a new Constitution, drafted by the President himself, was held in July 2022.
During the political crisis, the polarisation between Islamic and modernist parties has also increased further. The country is new to multi-party democracy and although the parties and politicians have strengthened their knowledge on democratic principles and multi-party co-operation, implementation of democratic reforms has not been easy, especially during the current political crisis. Slow reforms, corruption, youth unemployment, security issues and regional inequalities have resulted in frustrations among the citizens. These led to President Kais Saied’s rise to power from outside the party field in the 2019 elections.
After the revolution several new parties have emerged in Tunisia. Many of the new parties need support in their in organisational structure and party programmes. The political crisis of 2021 has also caused turbulence within the more established parties as criticism of their leadership has increased. More than ever, there is need for training for politicians, so they can support strategic planning and drafting of policies within their parties. Co-operation between parties has been possible, but dialogue is still fragile and susceptible to tensions in the political atmosphere. Women’s participation in politics is higher in Tunisia than in other Arab countries.
Our work in Tunisia
In 2012 Demo Finland, a Tunisian think tank Centre des Etudes Méditerranéennes et Internationales (CEMI) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) set up the Tunisian School of Politics (TSoP), which aims at strengthening the multi-party system through improved co-operation across party lines. From 2021 onwards, the programme has also strengthened the participation of young people in decision-making by further expanding co-operation with civil society and young people from outside political parties.
TSoP gathers together young people from political parties and civil society organisations and offers them knowledge as well as practical tools for working in politics. Taking part in the school offers the young politicians a whole new skill set of working in politics, understanding the intricacies of a multi-party system, and the skills to work together across party lines. Gender equality is a cross-cutting objective of the programme and therefore gender quotas are in place for the trainings, and the themes are approached from gender perspectives.
TSoP alumni now number over 500 and their capacities and skills in multi-party co-operation are further strengthened through alumni trainings. Each year, the TSoP organises several multi-party discussions, meetings with government Ministers, and public discussions with parties, civil society and other actors, emphasising peaceful dialogue and constructive political conversation.
In 2016 TSoP set up a high-level multi-party dialogue forum to enhance political dialogue. The forum brings together all parliamentary parties with more than three seats in the Parliament and holds an important place in facilitating multi-party dialogue, as it is the only one of its kind in the country. Ahead the 2019 elections, the forum published a joint statement on the ethicalness and cooperation regarding election campaigning, which was a significant indication of the multi-party forum’s ability to co-operate. However, after the 2021 crisis, the work of the forum has been challenging.
In 2021, CEMI established a new dialogue initiative that brings together active young people working in parties and CSOs so that their voices can be heard in this new politically challenging situation. In addition, the youth council established in 2021 offers influence and participation opportunities for young people who do not belong to parties or CSOs. On the newly founded Freesh multimedia channel, young influencers share ideas about democratic participation from young people to young people, and it has already found thousands of young followers.
Earlier, TSoP has also supported political parties in their strategic work and trained parliamentarians and their assistants.
The Tunisian School of Politics has quickly stabilised its place on the Tunisian political field. Every other year, young politicians who have graduated from TSoP with highest grades participate in a study visit to Finland and get acquainted with the Finnish party field and the traditions of multi-party co-operation via Demo Finland.
The Tunisian School of Politics is supported by the Ministries for Foreign Affairs of Finland and the Netherlands via Demo Finland and NIMD, and at the moment, it is part of a larger consortium called the Power of Dialogue.
Results of our work
- Since 2012, TSoP has trained over 500 young politicians on the basis and practices of multi-party democracy. There are hundreds of participants in the different activities of TSoP every year.
- In 2019 elections, 54 politicians that have participated in the TSoP activities were elected in the Parliament, 14 out of them are women. In the 2018 local elections, 61 TSoP alumni (29 men and 32 women) ran as candidates, out of which 11 women were elected.
- The alumni have praised the Tunisian School of Politics especially for enabling multi-party relations and co-operation.
- Many of the TSoP alumni have risen to high positions in their parties and they have trained their party colleagues in turn.
- The Tunisian School of Politics and the high-level dialogue forum have created respected and important spaces for politicians to meet across party lines, while increasing trust and co-operation and producing policy initiatives. In 2019, 13 parties signed a joint statement on ethical election campaigning.