Tunisia’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections, held in September and October 2019, were major milestones in its democratization process. But the rise of anti-party figures and radical movements reminded Tunisia’s political elites – and European onlookers – that deep socio-economic challenges continue to destabilize the country’s fragile political system. Against this backdrop, covid-19 has exacerbated long-term challenges such as an economic crisis, social and regional inequality, inadequate healthcare, and intensifying political instability. This will test the capacity and unity of the ruling coalition in significant ways. But, critically, it also provides a moment of opportunity to press ahead with much-needed reforms.
Tunisia is coming back
In the short term, the EU can encourage international financial institutions to be flexible in their demands of Tunisia, helping restructure the country’s debt to create political space for the government to implement economic reforms. In the long term, Tunisia and the EU should engage in a strategic dialogue that encompasses not only trade and security but also investment, economic modernisation, the green economy, and digitalisation. These measures can help the EU become the external anchor Tunisia needed to consolidate its democratic transition.
Tunisia’s 2019 elections produced a vote against the establishment and a fragmented political landscape. Parliament is deeply divided and lacks a clear foundation for stable and efficient policymaking, while the new president has neither political experience nor a party to implement his agenda. The 2019 elections may have finally ended the transactional power-sharing agreement forged by Ennahda and representatives of the old regime, which long ignored major socio-economic challenges.