vendredi 21 octobre 2011

Mabrouka M’barek, candidate on two continents

Mabrouka M'barek, head list candidate for the CPR

An electoral campaign is never easy for a candidate – even more so when the politician’s riding comprises of 20 countries spread out over two continents.

This is the reality of many Tunisian candidates in the 6 ridings of the diaspora. The October 23rd election allows for these candidates to run for office, even though they are not in Tunisia.

The ridings are situated in America, Europe and the Middle East; wherever there are enough Tunisians to make up the 60 000 required voters.

In the case of Mabrouka M’barek, candidate for the Congrès pour la République (CPR), she is running in the Americas and the rest of Europe riding. This particular region covers Canada, the USA as well as all European countries except France, Germany and Italy.  Two candidates will represent it – there are 19 total on the electoral list competing for the seats.

Although she grew up in Bir Ali Ben Khalifa, governorate city of Sfax, Miss M’barek was born in Strasbourg. It was there that she completed her studies in law and business. Today, she lives in Vermont and pursues a career with community groups, having quit the business world after an experience she had with a program for Middle-Eastern women’s education. Now, her focus is primarily on running humanitarian missions.

At this year’s election, she is on top of the CPR’s electoral list – though how she came to be with the party is quite an unusual story. While she was in Montreal to celebrate Ben Ali’s ousting in mid-January, she attended a political debate about Tunisia; something that would not have been possible in the former dictatorship.

The principal orator of the debate was Ettakatol’s leader and second in the current polls, Mustapha Ben Jaafar. The rest of the panel was filled by representatives of Ennahda, CPR and the Progressive democratic party (PDP).

During the questions period, Miss M’barek asked the representatives about the implication of women in their parties and their plans for recruiting them. After a few diplomatic answers from the first two candidates, the CPR’s stated quite frankly that they did not have enough. He then proceeded to offer Miss M’barek a spot in the party since he thought she had ‘‘what it took’’. Soon after the discussion, she joined the ranks of CPR.

Ever since then, she has defended their ideals at every turn. ‘‘CPR tries to engage citizens as much as possible and avoids behind the scenes dealings’’ she says. ‘‘Also, the party never negotiated with the dictatorship, even when others were considering forming a coalition government with Ben Ali on the eve of his departure, January 13th.  We refused and instead invited citizens to continue their protests against their ruler.’’

Ms. M’barek thinks that the country must adopt a democracy that encourages participation form citizens and restores the population’s confidence in the system. “The new constitution must contain a clause that forces the government to be accountable to its population. This would be the best way to get the people’s trust’’ she explains.

The party also wants all debates in Parliament to be broadcast on public television. Because they felt it was hiding information to the public, CPR did not participate in the latest private meetings between the main progressive parties.

In order to have any chance at the election and make herself known, Ms. M’barek had to make heavy use of Facebook and Twitter. Besides the social networking sites, she conducted interviews and debates using Skype. Welcome to politics 2.0!

When asked about relations with Islamists, she said that they should not be considered like enemies. ‘‘We must be able to communicate with Ennahda’s people, to sit at the same table and not cast them out or ignore them entirely’’. She remains silent though on the topic of coalitions and alliances, preferring to wait until after the elections to make her opinions public.

While there is only one day left in the electoral campaign in Tunisia, the diaspora’s ended last Thursday. Voting has started and will continue until the 22nd of October. Until the votes are tallied, it’s radio silence for diaspora candidates.

Until then, it will interesting to see how the elected officials abroad will react to the outcome and what real impact their presence will have on the Tunisians living in the diaspora. Keep in mind also that certain countries are not too pleased with the idea of outside ridings; their relations with the representatives will certainly be something to follow.

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