dimanche 23 octobre 2011

Afek Tounes and how to decentralize

It can be quite challenging to keep up with all the political parties (more than 110) in Tunisia. So far, five or six have broken from the peloton and are able to have a small lead partly because they are older, and therefore they benefit from a wider recognition.

Although it would be a lie to say that they played an active role in the old dictatorship.  These parties had to remain within certain very narrow boundaries when they were not totally censored by Ben Ali.

Within the lot, there is one party that is not even 10 months old yet: the center right Afek Tounes (AT). Formed in February of 2011, the party already has many volunteers, experienced political coordinators and youthful supporters. According to rumors, that public support is quite substantial.

AT is often mentioned alongside the big parties in Tunisia. Optimistic observers will tell you that they hold between 5 and 10% of voter’s intentions, but it is mostly speculations since election polls have been banned since October 1st. One thing is certain though; they are going to win seats on election day. 

The leader of Afek Tounes, Yassine Brahim
Follow one of their volunteer groups or coordinators on the field and you will immediately see their quality. I did just that on October 16th when they were campaigning in a popular neighborhood of the Sfax 2 riding.

One of their coordinators was with me, 34 year old Wajdi Elleuch, a teacher at the university of Sfax. He holds a PhD in engineering from the university of Sherbrooke (Québec). His party’s program was entirely memorized as he could remember every little detail during our conversation. Mr. Elleuch strongly believes in his team and his leader, Yassine Brahim, a 45-year-old businessman and member of the post Ben Ali transition government. ‘‘He is a very intelligent and charismatic man, kind of like a young Barack Obama’’ he says.

Afek Tounes’ most important strategy they propose in their program is simple: decentralizing. The same concept is applied within their party; from the way they operate to the way they push propositions forward. Chokri Yaich, star candidate in the Sfax 2 riding, stresses the importance of this issue, ‘‘we plan to split the country in eight regions, seven in Tunisia and one abroad. Each of them would have their own powers and budgets in order to govern their territory and develop local projects’’. Also, he says that for too long, most of the governments’ budget was unfairly focused on the coastal cities in the North.

Chokri Yaich delivering a short speech on the side of the
street in his Sfax 2 riding.
During an improvised speech in a more deprived neighborhood, Mr. Yaich addressed people walking by as well as those seated in cafés. He pushed his point that ‘‘individual regions must have social and economic powers. We can’t just wait for the Minister of Transportation or Economic Development to build a road or a school when we need it.’’ 

When it comes to governance, an elected council and a governor would run the eight regions that Afek Tounes wants to create. In the system they propose, the federal state takes charge of large national projects such as airports and bridges while the regions busy themselves with the rest.

The party favors an American style of legislative power – one that recognizes the importance of individual regions. AT proposes that a semi-presidential system be implemented with two houses and an elected president. One house would have an equal number of seats per region while the other’s seating would be proportional to the riding’s population.

Chokri Yaich, head of list for AT in 
Sfax 2.
In their justice system, the legislative assembly should appoint half of the judges and comity members of the magistrate appoint the other 50%. According to the party’s program, in order to maintain transparency with citizens, all procedures in court should be televised.

The party promises that these changes will come into effect in a very short period of time if they are elected. Mr. Yaich is confident that AP’s plans will please both public and private sectors. However, it is important to point out that some of their goals seem slightly unattainable. For example, their economic program plans for 10% growth within five years, reduce unemployment from 22.5% to 4.5% in the same period and also to create 170 000 new jobs per year. That’s a pretty tall order for a young democracy like Tunisia.

AT, like all the other progressive parties, say they are open to a post elections coalition.  That’s all they are willing to say on the subject. However, Mr. Yaich is quite open about AT’s hopes for this Sunday, “we are confident that we can get 10% of the vote. We are aiming for between 10 and 15 seats, this is a very reachable goal” he states.

Since they are deeply rooted in Sfax, AT is counting on obtaining seats in the riding. It would be certainly very noble for such a young party to elect 10 to 15 members of Parliament. We'll see very soon if they're able to match their expectations as the first results should come out in less than 24 hours.

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