Tunisians united to oust a dictator: because a whole people wanted their freedom; they wanted to have their right to speak and chose their rulers, the right to live decently and the right to not live with constant fear. So was the Jasmine Revolution of January 14. It is then with much enthusiasm that hundreds of political parties, syndicates and associations were created. It is for building the new country, with a constitution shaped just like its population, that were announced the elections for the constitutive assembly. Many times postponed, due to the difficulties encountered by the transitionnal government to solve the slightest issue regarding to the reforms to lead, and due to the new political game involving the members of the former system, the historical opponents of the regime and the protestors and newcomer in politics afraid to see the revolution fail to fulfil its goal. Finally, the elections are to be hold on October 23rd.
The ISIE (Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections), managed by Kamel Jendoubi, is monitoring the elections to ensure a fair and transparent process, for the first ever free elections taking place in the History of Tunisia. The ISIE launched a few weeks ago a massive campaign to encourage Tunisians to get registred for the elections. Indeed, until now in Tunisia, the citizens were automatically receiving their voter’s card. The new system asks for potential electors to register in town halls and embassies in a period of time going from July 11th to August 2nd.
The ISIE were providing continuously estimates of the number of registration. Since the very first days, Tunisians did not seem to rush to get registres; the number were low. Less than 2% of Tunisian potential electors registred after the first week, about 25% at the end of the registration period. The ISIE decided to extend for two more weeks the registration period. Disappointing: Tunisians do not seem at all interested in voting.
How come a people that mobilized to topple a regime is indifferent to voting, one of the basic rights they asked for and fought for? Many explanations were given:
- the lack of a “democratic culture”: full generations of Tunisians were never part of their own political system; they never were but spectators to this comedy the old regime was calling “democracy”, knowing what horrible truth lies behind the words. The idea of voting with effective result might be too new to most of the people to take the initiative to register and to chose a candidate. They might actually have made a choice but not dare to make it, fearing the reaction of the rulers, or maybe they do not get that their voice really make a difference.
- the confusion with the old system: the old system did not require registering, thus a large part of Tunisians are not aware that registration is a necessery step.
- the contradictory ISIE guidelines: dates change following you consult one source or the other, required documents to bring change, unclear specifications, etc. Tunisians, whose a great part never voted in their entire life, whose a substantial part is illetrate or two poor to be wired 24/7 for new updates may feel totally lost.
- the contestation: the political game opposing the parties (PDP, enNahdha, etc), where every political leader tries to make coalitions to bring down others, where attacks and rumors hit every side, gives maybe the feeling to the Tunisian population that politicians do not have the interest of the people set as a priority, therefore incitating them to “boycott” the elections. The brutality with which the police breaks sit-ins and protests and the extent of the emergency state might well also contribute in unsecuring the citizen: why would they vote for building a new authoritarian state? Indeed, many of Tunisians often say that since the revolution “nothing has changed“.
Like in most complex situations, the answer is certainly made of all these different explanations. But there is still a last one has – sadly – to consider: maybe, Tunisians do not register, simply because they do not care about voting. The idea in itself seems a bit odd: why did they do a revolution in the first place if they did not care? Well, first, it does not take more than some part (say, 10 or 20%) of a population to carry on a revolution.This does not mean that the rest of the population do not agree with the idea of a revolution, but that they are not active in the process: they follow it, but from far. Then, given the fact that an authoritarian state cannot survive for 23years without not only by scaring the population, but also by growing in them the uninterest for political matters, a good proportion of the Tunisian population was always very indifferent to politics.
The propaganda is more than convincing about some one-sided truth, it is also about telling “take care of your own business, and we take care of our own“. In such a case, the whole background of the mediatic culture, of the society, of the teaching in schools can evolve into directing people to get interested and focused on secondary matters: consumerism, for example. People died to bring us the right to vote, but what can you do, voting is definetly not as funny as going to shopping, gossiping or watching sports on TV. From my personnal experience, sadly, I have to say that many of our compatriots fall in that category of citizens that have closed their sight to the very idea of participative citizenship. I think that getting rid of this mentality is the biggest challenge of the Revolution: and it will certainly not be achieved by the upcoming elections. If half of the generation of our children are educated to participative citizenship, it will already be an outstanding victory for Tunisia.