Political participation in Tunisia

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

Reboot team members Zack Brisson & Kate Krontiris wrote in a World Bank report, on March 14, 2012:

“Many Tunisians are taking advantage of their new liberties and enjoying meaningful political participation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the flood of new political parties that ran in last year’s elections for the constituent assembly. Yet these opportunities are not without corresponding threats. Two main challenges face political participation in Tunisia. First, the inexperience that hinders many Tunisians’ ability to effectively engage with the political system. Second, while the volume of party activity is evidence of an open system, in practice this has caused confusion among less-informed voters who have difficulty choosing among the cacophony of parties and platforms.”

Since the fall of the autocratic regime of Ben Ali in January 2011, Tunisia has been undergoing a dramatic political transition. Have Tunisian political parties become more experienced since the October 23rd constituent assembly elections, and therefore more organized and effective? What will re-motivate citizens of all age ranges and genders, who have too quickly lost patience and faith in their newly founded political parties? Have Tunisians decided, too soon perhaps, to retreat from political life – in many cases preferring to engage in civil society activism over affiliating with political parties?

In a radio town hall event, a group of Tunisian citizens from the coastal city of Gabes, and others from the interior city of Kerouain, came together to discuss their concerns with leaders from two of Tunisia’s political parties and a political television journalist:

  • Kamal El-Hajam is the Mobilization Coordinator from the Ennahda movement. He is also a member of the executive office of Ennahda and he was a member of the the party’s Shura Council. He spent 16 years in jail during the former regime.
  • Nahla Ben Khalifa is the Youth and Women Coordinator at the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). PDP is one of the few opposition parties that existed during the Ben Ali regime. It is a leftist progressive party that lost in the October 23rd elections.
  • Nasreddine Ben Hdid is a journalist on Nessma TV’s political debates and news hour. He is a centrist known for his objective and academically backed opinions.

Many young Tunisians feel left out of the new political processes. All of the panelists referred to the motivations of young people to become politically active.

High school student Reem Thabti, 22 years old, is concerned that the parties are dividing the nation. She says that just because she is not a member of a certain political party, she shouldn’t be accused of being an atheist. With all the politicking, she fears that the needs of the poor will be forgotten.

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Hossem Yahyawi, 26 years old, was a political activist in Kasserine, Tunisia. He is frustrated that the political parties aren’t up to the challenges they face. He says the political parties work only for their own interests and not for the good of the country. He doesn’t believe that Tunisia has established real democratic practices.

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Journalist Nasreddine Ben Hdid responded that young people’s expectations were too high and the political parties don’t have the means to deliver, while Kamel Hajjem, a representative from the Ennahda party, stressed that youth evaluate political parties based on ideological, emotional and societal principles.

The broadcast was produced by Association Tunisie Media in partnership with Shems FM. Link to the Shems FM page to listen to other audio broadcasts on the political process in Tunisia.

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