On Sunday, the people of Tunisia will trace the north African country’s future path to democracy in a parliamentary election.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprising of 2010, they voted massively for the Ennahda party, which many say is a moderate Islamist movement. It won, and formed a government, but it showed a willingness for compromise and voluntarily gave way to a team of technocrats.
The other big contender this time around is Nidaa Tounes, a broad-based secularist party.
Political historian Khaled Abid told euronews that most Tunisians are hoping that their vote will go to those who really deserve it, not like in 2011. Then they voted essentially to drive out figures of the old regime and brought an untested alternative to power. Abid thought those elected in 2011 will be punished in this vote.
Arab uprisings across the Middle East failed to deliver a genuine transition to democracy. Tunisia must consolidate its hopes and form an effective government to avoid general disappointment and backsliding.
One voter told us he hoped the elections will be honest, like the last ones. He said Tunisians are trustworthy, aware and cultivated, and hoped the elections will proceed in a spirit of openness and respect.
Another said: “I’ve already decided who I’ll vote for. I expect politicians to improve conditions in this country, that they’ll track down terrorists so that Tunisia goes back to the way we like it. We wish Tunisia all the best.”
In a busy market district, we heard: “I’m going to vote for the Nidaa party, hoping they’ll help the country, notably the poorest. I hope they’ll be up to it.”
The manager of a small restaurant said: “I’m going to vote for Ennahda again. It’s an honest party. It was in power and at a given moment it deliberately withdrew.”
Ennahda is still projected to do well in these polls. Seeking consensus, it says it won’t run a candidate for next month’s presidential elections.
The government knows declining living standards top everyone’s agenda.
Spokesman Nidhal Ouerfelli said: “The sole problem, after these last three years, and notably following the revolution, is the economy. Social, political and constitutional affairs have been front and centre stage, and economics has sometimes been neglected. The economy is calling us back into line.”
The budding democracy also has security challenges but people are more worried about the reform that will be needed for the economy to recover, and to return to pre-Arab Spring job numbers, which have fallen.
A shopper in one of Tunis’s many fishmongers said: “The cost of living is too high. We can’t manage, whether for groceries or other goods in stores. The prices are exorbitant.”
Outside, a resident said: “A majority of Tunisians talk openly about the high cost of living. That’s the only option we have. We have to understand that and be optimistic, not pessimistic.”
It’s clear that if Tunisia’s political transformation is to keep going with relative success, people will have to draw deeply on patience.
Our correspondent Sami Fradi summed up: “Four years after the revolution, people are still suffering from day-to-day costs, frustrated with politicians. They’re fed up waiting for promises that have taken too long to be honoured.”