The 2014 legislative and presidential elections are of vital importance to Tunisia because they would put an end to the 3-year-long transitional phase of interim governance. Thus, we believe, it is the role of Tunisian civil society to help safeguard the success and ensure the transparency and fairness of these elections.
Ofiya Coalition for the Observation of the Integrity of Elections (henceforth “Ofiya”)and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (henceforth “CSID”) formed a partnership to monitor the integrity of the elections and called it the “Eye on the Elections” project. The main aim of this project was the observation of the legislative and presidential elections at the national level from the beginning of the voter registration process until the final declaration of results.
CSID and Ofiya have enlisted and trained more than 1250 observer that represented the “Eye on the Elections” project who were deployed in over 27 constituencies on election day, Sunday, October 26, 2014. Throughout the day, serious breaches and incidents were noted and reported simultaneously to the project’s Central Observatory at CSID headquarters via instant communication. As for the normal progress of the ballot, observers transmitted their input via SMS services.
These elections offered a new opportunity for Tunisian citizens to exercise their inalienable right to elect the first democratically and Constitutionally-mandated deputies of Parliament. The relatively high participation rate of 60.84% testifies as clear evidence for the people determination to complete Tunisia’s final strides in its onward march to democracy.
Results of Election Day Observations
1. General Overview
The Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) provided guidance and written references and notes in 88% of the polling stations. Security and army forces were present in 98% of stations. Prior to the opening of the polling stations, our observers did not note any form of political advertising, except in a few cases (around 13% of precincts).
2. Polling station opening
7 a.m. was the official timing of the polling station opening. It was respected in 94% of the cases with the presence of all the members of the office. We also note the presence of at least one of the representatives of political parties or candidates within the offices that have been observed in 93% of the cases.
Moreover, we witnessed that the members of the polling stations committed to the opening of the polling process procedures, especially with regard to checking the emptiness of the ballot box, locking it, and putting it in a prominent, visible, and accessible place for everyone. The designated voting booths within the election sites generally guaranteed the privacy and secrecy for the citizens in 97% of the stations. Sensitive and relevant electoral materials were available at 99%. We also noted that the voter lists were hung inside the polling center at nearly three-quarters, or 75%, of the voting precincts.
3. The ballot assessment
Our observers also took special note of the strict adherence to the official voting procedures when it comes to checking identity cards, using electoral ink after signing in front of the voter’s name, and withdrawing one single sheet stamped from four corners on behalf of the officer in charge, and found this to be the case in 99% of stations.
ISIE’s recommendations to help and accompany people with special needs or disabilities were respected in 87% of stations. However, only 15% of illiterate voters were accompanied to the voting booth to exercise their electoral right. Furthermore, we would like to draw special attention to the fact that only 42% of the voters turned off their mobile phones during the voting process, in direct violation of official ISIE voting procedure.
It should be also noted that in 82% of the stations, political candidates interfered oveltry in the work of the polling stations.
In 2% of the cases, our observers were unable to continue their work to the very end, especially during the sorting process. It was the decision of the head of the office to send them away, citing over-crowdedness as a pretext. In 91% of cases, our observers were joined by others from different NGOs, also turned away. This demonstrates the lack of coordination despite our attempts to do so locally and regionally.
4. Polling stations closing
We recorded the heads of polling stations respected 6pm as the closing time, and in 98% of stations, voters who were inside the polling centers were able to finish their duty except a few in some cases.
Counting began immediately after the closure of polling stations in 73% of cases, while taking the rest of the members of the Bureau some time before embarking on counting in the remaining cases.
5% of the counting agents displayed overt and explicit bias in the counting process. It follows, too, that 20% of agents signed formal complaints. Counting continued to a late hour due to the re-count of the number of voters that did not match the number of the ballot papers in 5% of the polling stations.
5. Evaluation of serious incidents
114 incidents occurred during the polling day that were classified into 19 categories, among them:
- Disturbances in the polls that resulted in the disruption of the voting process: 26%
- Political advertising campaigns and propaganda in some polling stations: 36%
- Vote-buying operations in the polls: 13%.
- Procedural errors on behalf of the members of the polling stations: 7%.
- Preventing observers and representatives of lists of candidates to do their work: 2%
- Depriving a number of registered voters of their right due to the absence of their names on the electoral register: 2%
“Eye on the Elections” management is pleased to present this report and the following recommendations:
1. Election Management should:
- Commit to quickly resolving voter registration complications and include the registered voters who were not able to vote in legislative elections in the upcoming presidential elections;
- Edit the electoral register in order to have accurate and updated data to be published thereafter.
- Stress more emphasis on the training of the members of the polling stations and be sure of their impartiality and independence;
- Conduct awareness courses for illiterate voters to facilitate the free and educated exercise of their electoral right.
- Provide more and insist upon the use of the electoral ink as a way to ensure an effective one-time vote.
- Voter education must be among ISIE’s top priorities in cooperation with civil society organizations and networks.
2. Candidates should:
- Refrain from any campaigning on election day and respect the enforced electoral silence.
- Train their delegates to respect the code of conduct and regulations by the current electoral code, and be prepared to be held accountable for breaches in conduct.
- Commit to the electoral law and not to use political money to buy votes.
3. Civil Society should:
- Double its efforts and vigilance toward the success of the democratic transition process.
- Actively participate in awareness campaigns for citizens, especially the illiterate communities.
- Support a strong and co-dependent partnership with the Independent High Electoral Commission, ISIE.
- Emphasize the need to observe election campaigns for the protection of the electoral process, particularly when it comes to their financing and subsequent spending practices.
- Coordinate between civil society organizations and networks in the distribution of observers in order to cover all the delegations of the electoral districts.