Promote the vote

With Tunisia’s presidential and parliamentary elections approaching in the fall, the Middle East Institute and the International Republican Institute (IRI) held a discussion “Brick by Brick: How Tunisians Are Laying the Foundation for Democracy” regarding the upcoming democratic transition. Yassine Brahim, President of the Afek Tunis Party, Meriem Bourguiba, Executive Committee of the Afek Tunis Party, and Scott Mastic, Regional Director at IRI, came together to discuss the elections and the challenges combatting voter apathy.

Tunisia is currently viewed as a beacon of stability within the Middle East. After successfully adopting a new constitution this year, Tunisians enjoy wide political rights and freedoms that range from freedom of belief to free speech. With elections around the corner, political parties are racing to garner support throughout the country.

However, Tunisians are angered by the economic stagnation and inadequate government response, fostering a sense of distrust and frustration towards political parties.  Fifty per cent of Tunisians believe that political parties are not interested in the general population, while 57% think that parties are only interested in power and personal growth. Thus, there is a great need to connect with everyday Tunisians to increase voter turnout and combat negative views of parties.

Political parties must look at the demographics behind the recent levels of voter apathy. Meriem Bourguiba noted that Tunisian youth currently present a great challenge in terms of political support due to the high unemployment rate and instability during Ben Ali’s regime. Approximately 95% of young Tunisians want to cross the Mediterranean in search of better opportunities in Europe. However, Bourguiba emphasized, “we can’t jump ship yet—we need to instill good will and dreams back into the youth.” Tunisia must search within civil society for outlets to truly impact youth and their education in order to get them out to the polls and vote.

It is also important that Tunisian women are empowered and see the significance in exercising their vote. Political parties should take a direct approach by talking with women in their homes and social settings in order to discourage female voter apathy. Women must be shown that they are active participants in government and that their voices will be heard. They are contributing members of this newly developing system. It is imperative that they have opportunities and resources appropriate to their best qualities.

Because of political indifference, great preparation and direct appeals to different facets of the population are necessary. Scott Mastic stressed that parties must convey progressive, new ideas, but also show a collective interest in Tunisia regardless of differing opinions.

The Afek Tunis party is preparing for the upcoming elections this fall, but it continues to struggle with voter apathy across a wide range of constituents. It is a liberal, free-market party that is currently ranked sixth in the polls. According to Afek Tunis President Yassine Brahim, it is a challenging task to address the many political and institutional issues within the country, even if Tunisia has progressed a great deal over the past several years.

Brahim advocated fundamental reforms to resolve the pressing social and economic issues the country suffers from. It is necessary to liberalize the economy without discrimination and make incentives for people to create businesses. Leaders of political parties should encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, while also halting the bureaucratic selectiveness of the current economy. There should be direct communication with voters and great efforts throughout both the presidential and parliamentary elections to increase voter turnout.

Despite the challenges of voter apathy, Tunisia is advancing peacefully and transitioning towards democracy. Power lies in the hands of the people, provided they go to the polls and participate in the rebuilding of their country.

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