When National Unity Governments are neither National, United, nor Governments: The Case of Tunisia

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Description: Is power-sharing an effective way for endangered transitional democracies to reduce political tensions and improve government performance? We provide one of the first quantitative tests of this question in Tunisia, the Arab Spring's only success story. We argue that power-sharing may reduce polarization for a limited time, but at the cost of undermining democratic institutions. To measure polarization, we examine all rollcall votes from Tunisia's first and second post-transition parliaments. We employ a time-varying ideal point model and examine whether power-sharing agreements led to convergence in political parties' ideal points. Our analysis reveals that Tunisia's national unity government in 2015 temporarily moderated political tensions and allowed for parliamentary activity to resume. However, despite a broadening of the coalition in mid-2016, polarization reemerged and crucial legislation stalled. Moreover, longitudinal survey data suggest that the failure of power-sharing in Tunisia contributed to disillusionment with political parties, parliament, and democracy.

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