Tunisia’s political background
In 2011 the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ took place which ended years of dictatorship in Tunisia and started the country on the path to democracy. This path has not been easy. There were two political murders which led to a stalemate in parliament for a while, and the process of drawing up and agreeing a new constitution took much longer than expected. Nevertheless, the new constitution was finally agreed and has been widely praised as one of the most progressive in the Arab world.
In 2014, Tunisia held free and fair elections that resulted in a coalition government consisting of a party which had associations with the previous regime, working together with a party that had previously been declared illegal. So a democratic system is developing but there are still many challenges. For example, the political parties tend to be based on the personality of the leader rather than on a programme of policies, levels of trust between the politicians are quite low and the people working in politics tend to lack the skills and knowledge that they need to work effectively in a multiparty democracy.
NIMD’s approach in Tunisia
NIMD started working in Tunisia in 2012 in collaboration with Demo Finland. The core aim of the programme has been building the capacity of the parties and politicians to work effectively in this new democracy and as part of that to encourage interparty dialogue.
Tunisia School of Politics
To achieve this, NIMD and Demo Finland set up a School of Politics together with its local partner, Centre des Études Méditerranéennes Internationales. Here, politicians work together in a multiparty setting to learn the skills and knowledge that they need to work together in a multiparty democracy. By learning together, they also get to know each other and get used to talking together which can help to increase trust and encourage interparty dialogue. By the end of 2014, 6 cohorts of politicians, approximately 180 people, had completed a programme.
Interparty Dialogue Platform
In 2016, political parties in Tunisia agreed to set up an interparty dialogue platform. The first meeting to discuss the platform was held in mid-April 2016 and facilitated by the Tunisia School of Politics, with the objective of providing the parties with a neutral zone where they could discuss issues of mutual concern. Even though Tunisia is the only country of the Arab spring that is still committed to democracy, major political issues, such as economic recession, terrorism, and youth issues, remain.
Participants claimed that free exchange of ideas is needed in order to strengthen mutual relations between the parties and their members. “The common platform makes it possible to go beyond the surface, and then you will find that there is more agreement between political parties than people would think,” explained one of the politicians who participated in the first meeting of the interparty dialogue platform.
We have also set up an informal multiparty dialogue platform called ‘Couscous Politique’, where politicians informally discuss political issues while eating traditional Tunisian couscous.
Women’s Political Rights Programme
Tunisia is also one of three counties where NIMD is running the Women’s Political Rights Programme. This programme is aimed at increasing the political participation of women in Tunisia, Colombia and Kenya.