Tunisia could be regional model or inspiration, but….


Tunisia has continued to make progress on democracy, including a Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights, but there is still a lot to do, says a UN expert.

“Tunisia still faces numerous challenges, including setting up key institutions required by the Constitution, such as the Constitutional Court, and aligning a number of overly-restrictive laws with the democratic and human rights standards proclaimed by the new Constitution,” says the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed. The constitution “could be a model or source of inspiration for the entire region,” he said in a statement.

But the government, beholden to its fragile coalition in the parliament, does not have the independence or stability to push through badly needed economic, political, and social reforms such as tax reform or an overhaul of the Ben Ali-era police, Christian Science Monitor reports.

“We have all the polarization and infighting of a congress, but without the strong, functioning central government like the US or Europe,” says Mohsen Marzouk (right), who resigned from Nidaa Tounes to form his own party following government inaction. “The government is too weak to pass through any reforms or meaningful changes Tunisia needs,” he added. “We have gone from the dictatorship of one man to the dictatorship of political parties, and it has been a disaster.”

Forthcoming municipal elections will be so intensely competitive as to resemble “peaceful war,” said Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda Movement. The local polls signal “the age of reformation, consolidation of freedoms, democracy and the authority of the people.”

Tunisia’s 2014 constitution sought to make the state’s commitment to decentralization an explicit and pivotal instrument for change…a catalyst for grassroots democracy and equitable development of the country’s diverse regions, analysts suggest:

They warn, however, that this depends largely on the powers these emerging players are entrusted with. Even by regional standards, the country’s budget allocation to municipalities is an anomaly. While Morocco devotes 11 percent of its budget to local bodies, the number drops to four in the case of Tunisia, a far cry from Denmark’s record 62 percent.

“Perhaps most important … is what the powers of new local elected officials will be; if they will even have access to funds to make decisions autonomous from central state institutions”, Fadil Aliriza, an independent journalist and researcher based in Tunis, told Al Jazeera.

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