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Poll: Tunisia’s disillusioned with democracy

September 12, 2013

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Tunisians, who kicked off the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2011 by overthrowing their authoritarian president, now yearn for stability and have lost faith in democracy and their elected leaders, according to a poll published Thursday.

The survey published by Pew Research Center shows dramatic drops from last year in favorability ratings of all prominent politicians as well as faith in most state institutions like the elected assembly and the judiciary.

Tunisians do, however, still support religion having an influence on the country’s politics and the religious parties participating in the government.

“Tunisians believe the principles of Islam should influence their legal system and religious leaders should have a role in political matters,” the report said.

The poll, which was based on 1,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in March, comes at a dramatic moment in Tunisia’s democratic transition, with a deadlock between the government and opposition over the direction the country is going.

A troubled economy and the assassination of two opposition politicians in the last six months has been taken as proof by the opposition that the moderate Islamist Ennahda party should no longer rule the country and must resign.

While approval ratings for Ennahda in the past year has dropped 25 points to just 40 percent in the last year, according to the poll, it is still higher than that of the other opposition parties.

The sole politician with a majority approval rating — 58 percent — was Hamadi Jebali, secretary-general of the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party, though that was still down from 66 percent last year.

While Ennahda may well lose its commanding position in the parliament in subsequent elections, the poll suggests it is still the dominant political force in a country where 59 percent believe laws should follow the values and principles of Islam.

With an educated, largely middle-class population Tunisia was widely expected to have the best chance to succeed in becoming a democracy.

The rocky transition, though, has sapped people’s faith in democracy. While in 2012, about 55 percent preferred to have a democracy with some instability, which number has plunged to just 38 percent in 2013 and now 56 percent of Tunisians would accept a stable country even if it wasn’t fully democratic.

The drop in support for democracy was the most marked among the middle income sector, where just 48 percent in 2013 described democracy as preferable, down from 66 percent a year earlier.

For the upper and lower income classes, however, a majority still said democracy preferable.

Confidence remains high in institutions like the army and police, but only 42 percent saw the courts and trade unions as having a good influence on society while the Tunisia’s first free elected assembly had only a 20 percent approval rating.

Economically, a majority said they were worse off since the revolution and just 50 percent thought matters would improve — down from 75 percent last year.

Amid the pessimism, however, the poll did find most Tunisians supported key components of democracy including a fair judiciary, free elections, freedom of expression and gender equality.

“Although there is widespread dissatisfaction with democracy in action, a broad majority of Tunisians continue to prioritize key components of democracy,” the report said. The survey had a margin of error of 4 percent.

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