Huge game changer in Tunisia: ‘In-credible’ failure of Islamist Ennahda Party

Will they learn from their mistakes?

TUNIS - The leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party congratulated his rival Beji Caid Essebsi Monday for "his party's win" in a general election seen as critical for democracy in the cradle of the Arab Spring.
According to two analyses of results across the country, Nidaa Tounes has won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda.
The Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote.
A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centres across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.
Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.
The analyses of results point to a huge game changer, with partial official results confirming early projections.
The failure of Ennahdha is incredible considering the Islamists' big mobilization drive and the divisions within the ranks of the secular camp.
The lessons to be learned are many: Some have to do with the non-ideological nature of Tunisian society, where priorities start with food and security. Coupled with that is the perception of Islamists as generally incompetent in terms of managing the state affairs.
Religiosity could not atone for the Islamists' failure to understand Tunisian society. Even traditionalist and conservative sectors could not easily identify with the alien-looking and sounding leaders of Ennahda party.
Related to all these trends is the high election turnout (of more than 61%). This percentage is higher than expected. And in the face of it, the Ennahdha "electoral machine" could not do much.
Many voters, young and old, came out to vote just to prevent an Ennahdha rule for the next five years.
Interestingly, the secular/Destourian voters proved to be more pragmatic than their often egocentrically divided leaderships. They also could not be swayed by the "moderate narrative" of Ennahdha during the campaign.
Non-Islamist voters eventually chose "Le Vote Utile" (casting their vote in favor of the party that could block Ennahdha and avoided voting for many of the smaller feuding formations).
The vote in favour of Destourian parties was miniscule, because virtually all the vote went to Nidaa Tounes. Beji Caid Essebsi understood that his party was the party “by default” for all non-Islamists and took his distance from Ennahdha. And it eventually worked.
Ennahdha’s additional problem was its alliance with token parties (CPR and Ettakatol) whose policies were either too radical or too disconnected from the majority of the population. The two former Troika allies have lost big.
Now that the radically vindictive fringe has proven not to have much appeal, time is ripe for a mature form of national reconciliation. Also in the fight against terrorism, there are likely to be less “ambiguities” tying the hands of the security establishment.
The legislative results will change the order of things for presidential elections. The calculus is not the same anymore and alliances will have to be re-examined as Tunisia enters a new game level.