Its a new dawn, its a new day

And thousands of Tunisians seemed to be feeling good as they took part in their country’s first free election in 50 years.  

The Guardian reports that 50-year-old shop assistant Samira queued for hours to be the first to vote in Tunisia's elections.  "How could I sleep?" she tells the Guardian journalist. "It's the first time I've ever voted in my life…What's one night when we've waited decades for freedom? This ballot box is what we took to the streets for." Undoubtedly Samira’s feeling of heightened anticipation and optimistic hope is one shared by the millions of Tunisians who attended the elections.  45-year-old Karina tells Channel 4 "I've asked the boys to make their own lunch. I don't care… Today I am not on duty. Or rather, I am on duty for my country."

The Huffington Post gets an interview with 83-year-old Tayyib Awish who said “the old elections were fraudulent and this one is for our children and grandchildren so that even if I soon die, I will be happy and content."

The BBC reports that 90 per cent of the 4.1 million registered citizens had voted. The sense of delight, joy and optimism amongst Tunisians is almost tangible.  Millions were energised by the chance for a new start in their country.  Middle East commentator Issandr El Amrani writing on Comment is Free describes the event as “nothing short of a miracle” for a country to move from being a repressive state, to holding free elections in the space of nine months. His blog also reminds us that the path to these elections has not been straightforward as former President Ben Ali's ruling party – RCD 'sowed chaos’ when people were shot and neighbourhoods – rich and poor – raided and terrorised.  

By no means am I about to rain on Tunisia’s parade of glee and celebration. But this wouldn’t be an Amnesty blog if it wasn’t one moderated with caution and calls.  And while this weekend is an historic occasion for the people of Tunisia, it is also a critical moment for them.  A free and fair election is certainly a positive step.  However in order to ensure fundamental and enduring change, human rights have to be central to the new government’s agenda.  A rights-based approach has to seep through every element of the government – from the security forces to a robust independent and secure judiciary.  Tunisians – it would appear – have been able to vote freely. The new government has to ensure that they are able to speak freely as well.  In addition, a full and proper investigation into the historic abuses committed under the previous regime has to be carried out.  The country can only substantially move forward if such violations are addressed and the victims of these abuses receive truth, justice and reparation.

So far this year, Tunisia has been the pace setter for the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.  Let’s hope that these elections set the standard for making way for a new human-rights centric government for this sprightly country.  

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