By Semih İdiz
The results of the elections in Tunisia on Sunday, Oct. 26 have significance for Turkey in particular, and for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in general. The reason is self-evident.
According to the preliminary count, the main secular party Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) won more than 80 seats in the 217-member Parliament, while the Ennahda (Renaissance), which is considered to be a “moderate Islamist party,” received only 67 seats, even though it was the main winner in the country’s first free elections in 2011.
Ennahda officials say they are inspired by Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has not lost an election since coming to power in 2002. Sunday’s balloting shows, however, that Ennahda is not set to replicate the AKP’s success.
The Tunisian elections have shattered the belief of many Islamists that democratic elections in a predominantly Islamic country will always produce a victory for Islamists.
Looking at Turkey, this appears to be true, of course. International isolation, corruption charges involving senior members of the government that are covered up, government-led attempts at tampering with democracy and the freedom of the judiciary, a blatantly mismanaged “peace process” with the Kurds, a precarious economy, etc. Yet the AKP is still the choice of around 50 percent of the voters.
The AKP’s support-base does not seem to care. It is simply a case of “we support our own lads, whether they are right or wrong!” The reasons for this are specific to Turkey, starting with the alienation caused by decades of tutelage by an overbearingly secularist – yet never democratic – establishment.
One would nevertheless have expected that with 12 years of the AKP in power – and admittedly not all of whose years have been bad in terms of governance – AKP supporters would have become more critical. One can’t help feeling that Tunisian voters are more questioning, and therefore ultimately more discerning than Turkish voters, even though Tunisia’s experience with democracy is much less than Turkey’s.
It is rare for a party in any genuine democracy to garner unending blind support, as if it was a football club, regardless of its glaring shortcomings. The pendulum is more likely to swing between various parties, depending on a host of sociological factors that leave the electorate demanding change.
A significant portion of the Tunisian electorate is clearly saying “I will not vote Islamist simply because I am a devout Muslim. I will vote instead for good governance.” Many Turks have clearly not arrived at this stage.
These Turks are still ideologically fixed on the coup in Egypt, for example, which they – rightly of course – say toppled the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood administration. They are, however, not in the least bit interested in the mistakes made by President Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood before they were toppled by the military.
These AKP supporters conveniently overlook the dictatorial way in which Morsi used a ballot box victory to try and “Islamize” the system of governance. They refuse to see that Morsi and his government prepared their own downfall as a result of their misguided belief that once elected they were there to stay, and could, therefore, do what they want.
Ennahda, which still has significant support, has not been voted out, of course, and will undoubtedly share power in a coalition government. This is normal in a secular democracy. Tunisia, as a predominantly Islamic country, also has serious problems to overcome yet before it can become a genuine democracy.
It is nevertheless the country that inspired the Arab Spring and which is inspiring hope today in the future of democracy in the MENA region. Turkey, on the other hand, appears to have lost its bearings in this regard, due to religiously based ideological fixations that are clearly out of touch with the contemporary world.