Center for Electoral Forensics

Tunisian Campaign Begins

[Tunisian Flag]The campaign season has officially begun in Tunisia. The October 23, 2011, polls will elect a Constituent Assembly, which will be charged with running the country for a 12 month period. During that twelve months, the primary goal of the Assembly is to draft Tunisia's next constitution.

What do we know about this election?

[The Souk of Tunis]

The Souk of Tunis
Courtesy: Wikitravel

The Tunisian election of October 23 will be a standard proportional representation (PR) list system. When the votes go to the polls, they will be able to select from among the political parties listed (designated with a party name and symbol). They cast their vote for a single party. When the votes are tallied, the governate seats to the Constituent Assembly will be awarded based on the proportion of votes received by each party.

There are (at least) three interesting aspects of this election, from a mechanical point of view. First, the ballot papers will include party symbols to allow for illiterate Tunisians to vote. Second, half of the members on the party lists must be female. Finally, Tunisia will use a simple proportional representation system with a greatest remainder counting allocation.

[Referendum Ballot Paper]

South Sudanese Unity Referendum ballot paper

The use of symbols on the ballot is designed to increase the participation of illiterate voters. Many States around the world have adopted such a ballot paper. For instance, the Unity Referendum of South Sudan included ballot papers with two symbols on them: one representing unity with Sudan, the other separation. (In addition to the symbols designed to me inclusive for illiterate South Sudanese, the words Unity and Separation were provided in Arabic and English (see right).

Tunisia, arguably the most Western of the Arab countries, has a long-standing history supporting equality of the sexes. I this election, the High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) mandated that each party list be composed of 50% females. In addition to this requirement, the list must alternate between the two sexes, which means that approximately half of those voted into the Constituent Assembly will be female.

Finally, as in all PR systems, there is no guarantee that the distribution of seats to the parties will come out even. When all seats are allocated, there will be seats left over. There are a variety of ways to distribute the seats: d'Hondt, Sainte-Laguë, Hare, etc., some including a threshold. Because of Tunisia's small electoral districts (governates), the threshold will not be used. Furthermore, the seats will be allocated using a simple variation on the largest-remainder system. In the Hare method, unused ballots are transferred. In the Tunisian system, they are not.

Because the list system emphasizes the role of the party in politics, independent candidates are concerned that they will be at a disadvantage in the October 23 polls. Furthermore, independent candidates feel that they are at a disadvantage with respect to the media.

One interesting change from the past (and from most other States) is that opinion polls and political analyses will be banned in Tunisia during the course of the campaign. Tunisia Live writes the following:

According to the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE), polls, political analyses, and public comments about the intention to vote for a specific party will be prohibited starting from October 1st, the launch of the election campaign. It will also no longer be legal to write articles about political parties.

The ISIE took this decision due to a lack of transparency and neutrality in practices and institutional settings related to the elections, such as opinion polls.

Thus, in Tunisia, the people will have to make up their own minds about the parties instead of having political analysts provide that information. The opinion polls, which are never required to be correct, cannot be used to sway the populace to one side or another. In short, this election campaign will be very different from those in most Western countries.


Update: Tunisia-Live contacted me to let me know that their quotation was not enitrely correct (translations are horrible!). They were conscientious enough to correct the error, which I rewrite and reprint below.

One interesting change from the past (and from most other States) is that opinion polls and biased political analyses will be banned in Tunisia during the course of the campaign. Tunisia Live writes the following:

According to the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE), polls, biased analysis, and public comments about the intention to vote for a specific party will be prohibited starting from October 1st, the launch of the election campaign. It will also no longer be legal to write biased articles about political parties.

The ISIE took this decision due to a lack of transparency and neutrality in practices and institutional settings related to the elections, such as opinion polls.

Thus, in Tunisia, the people will have to make up their own minds about the parties instead of having biased political analysts push them in one direction without facts to support their statements. The opinion polls, which are never required to be correct, cannot be used to sway the populace to one side or another. In short, this election campaign will be very different from those in most Western countries.

The emphasis is mine. Again, that a news organization takes the time to actually check its facts is rare. As such, Tunisia-Live is definitely on my short list of reputable news outlets.


This is a part of the continuing story of Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution and the fall of Ben Ali. Other articles include:

Official electoral body: High Authority for the Elections
Election date: October 23, 2011
Results: TBA

2 thoughts on “Tunisian Campaign Begins

  1. Allan Bradley

    Hi, this is Allan Bradley, editor-in-chief at Tunisia Live. One sentence that you have quoted from us is incorrect (our fault, not yours). According to early news coverage, we wrote, "It will also no longer be legal to write articles about political parties." According to later clarifications, however, the rule is against biased coverage, not against all political coverage. No rule is trying to ban all writing about political parties.

    This is our mistake, and later coverage corrects the error (http://www.tunisia-live.net/2011/09/30/isie-releases-regulations-for-electoral-campaign/). Also be aware we may edit the article you quote to reflect this correction.

    It is a fascinating voting system, and we agree it is going to look very different from what most Westerners might expect.