As armed conflict and extremism plague much of the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia is celebrating a year of success.
After almost four years of transition marked by political deadlock and violence, Tunisians this year participated in important democratic developments, welcoming 2015 with a new constitution, parliament, government and president.
Following the ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Jan. 2011, a new legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly, was elected to navigate Tunisia to parliamentary and presidential elections.
The NCA decided to draft the country’s constitution from scratch, which proved costly and time-consuming.
The Islamist Ennahda party, which held the majority of seats in the NCA, tried to pepper the text with religious references, irking secular MPs.
It was only after the assassination of opposition MP Mohammed Brahmi, which caused political deadlock followed by the resignation of the Ennahda-led government, that drafting was sped up.
Tunisian lawmakers finally passed the new constitution on Jan. 26, 2014. Domestic and international observers have hailed it as progressive, protecting freedom of speech and gender equality, establishing a decentralized system of government, and limiting the president’s executive powers.
The constitution “is one of Tunisia’s important achievements,” political analyst Noureddine Mbarki told Al Arabiya News. “It’s a consensual constitution that guarantees public and individual freedoms.”
The new constitution granted much of the power to the 217-seat legislature, so parliamentary elections were very important for political parties wanting a stake in the upcoming government.
On Oct. 26, and for the second time since the revolution, Tunisians headed to the polls to elect the country’s legislative body for the coming five years. The frontrunner was the Nidaa Tounes party with 85 seats, followed by Ennahda with 69.
Nidaa Tounes was founded by 88-year-old veteran statesman Beji Caid Essebsi in 2012 as an alternative force to Ennahda, bringing together secular leftists, trade union leaders, businessmen, and associates of the former regimes who opposed bringing religion into state institutions.
Ennahda leader Rached al-Ghannouchi congratulated Nidaa Tounes on its electoral victory, admitted to some mistakes, but claimed credit for navigating Tunisia through a tough transition period.
The parliamentary election led to the presidential race, which Essebsi won in a run-off this week with 55.7% of the vote, against interim President Moncef Marzouki’s 44.3%.
Unlike in previous presidential elections where ousted Ben Ali persecuted his rivals, Tunisians this year were able to choose their favourite from a pool of 27 candidates.
“This is the first time we reach a second round,” Mbarki said. “The margin was little in the first round, and even the second round, 10% is the margin that we see in developed democratic countries.”
Essebsi won 39.46% of the votes on the Nov. 23 election, followed by Marzouki with 33.43 %.
“We used to see 90% back in the day,” said Mbarki, referring to election results under the dictatorship of Ben Ali.
“Tunisians headed to voting polls three times in eight weeks. This is the first time it happens in Tunisia’s history.”
This year saw the first female presidential candidate, Judge Kalthoum Kannou. Analysts saw her candidacy as another milestone in the revolution.
Hailing the presidential vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday: “Tunisia has provided a shining example to the region and the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process.”
He added: “Tunisia’s achievements this year laid the groundwork for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future for the country.”
The European Union also offered congratulations. “Tunisians have written a historic page in the country’s democratic transition,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
However, the revolution is far from complete, said political analyst Sadeq Belaid: “What has been achieved... is only one stage. The old state model failed and brought about a revolution. Now we need to build a new model stone by stone.”
He added: “It’s not enough to have democratic institutions. There’s a lot of work to be done because the transition took longer than anticipated. This will take five to 10 years.”