jeudi 3 novembre 2011

Three young politicians that want to make a difference

From left to right : Omezzine Khelifa, Arabiya Kousri and 
Wafa Madder.

They’ve been running for a major party with almost no chance of being elected and, as expected, they didn’t win a seat at the Constituent Assembly. Representing the future generation of leaders, Wafa Madder, Arabiya Kousri and Omezzine Khelifa were candidates of the Ettakatol party on the Tunis 1 and 2 lists. Summary of an interview done at the Montréal Café (!) in Tunis.

Arabiya Kousri, the most experienced politician of the trio is considered a party veteran at the age of 28. This may sound surprising but remember that even if the Ettakol party was founded in 1994, only a few brave souls dared to join it before the end of the dictatorship. Today, membership cards are selling swiftly and the youth movement within the party is growing rapidly. In fact, it is among younger Tunisians that Ettakol gets its strongest support.

Mrs Kousri started working for Ettakol in 2009 just before the presidential election. Back then she managed the party’s Facebook account which was quite difficult because she had to deal with censorship imposed by the regime. For this year’s election, she focused on meeting voters and explaining the party’s philosophy and strategy. She was in fourth place on the Tunis 1 list, a riding which was very important because the leader of the party, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was also on that list.

Also on the Tunis 1 list, this time in the sixth place, Wafa Madder, aged 27, was invited to join the party in March by her colleague Arabiya Kousri. A certified accountant, Mrs Madder crisscrossed most of the country to present Ettakatol’s program and to open registration offices. As the party’s coordinator, she also emphasised recruiting women candidates especially after the ISIE announced that there would be gender parity on the electoral lists.

The third member of the trio, Omezzine Khelifa, worked for a few years in France before returning to Tunisia to run in the elections. Though working on another continent, she would visit her family in Tunisia every second weekend. Her desire to be a politician was inspired by her aunt, a women’s rights advocate, who was imprisoned in 2009 for having published anti-regime pictures on Facebook.

All very eloquent, the three young women responded honestly to all the questions. « One of the main problems in our country is a question of mentality. There are too many old habits created by the old regime that still persist » explains Mrs Kousri. As an example, she mentions an anecdote that she often witnessed in the campaign, « When we met people, some were asking us: what will you give me if I vote for you? My response: what will you give me? »

The leader of Ettakatol, Mustapha Ben
All three candidates proudly salute the ISIE’S decision to impose gender parity on electoral ballots. «It’s an excellent thing when you take into account the nations situation, and it’s the best way to ensure women representation. Politics is difficult, particularly for women. Even within our party, we have to struggle to be heard. In spite of the fact that Ettakatol, like other major parties with the exception of Pôle moderniste démocratique (PDM), only selected three women has heads of lists out of a possibility of 33, the young women remain positive. « The imposition of parity is already a major occurrence. For the heads of lists, it will be better during the next election » states Mrs Kousri.

No subject was off limits for the candidates during the interview; from the economy to the Constitution, tourism, religion or external affairs. Much like most progressive parties, Ettakanol endorses the separation of religion and state.

In the same breath, candidates declare that an eventual coalition with the Islamic party Ennahda is not planned in spite of rumours spread by some in the media and their opponents that Mustapha Ben Jaafar is hesitant to clearly express his position on the matter. Following criticism, M. Ben Jaafar reiterated his opposition to a coalition with Ennahda during an interview with La Presse newspaper (article in French).

On the economic front, Ettakanol proposes to increase the minimum taxable level of annual income from the actual 1,500 dinars to 3,500 dinars. In the tourism industry, there needs to be a change of philosophy. « Tunisia has countless historical ruins, second only to Italy, and practically nothing is done to showcase them. We must stop putting all our efforts on promoting seashore and focus instead on our cultural heritage » mentioned Mrs Khelifa.

When campaigning in the streets, the candidates, in addition to presenting their political program, encouraged people to exercise their right and their responsibility to vote whether for them, other parties or independents. Speaking of independents, the trio didn’t hesitate to raise pointed questions, « Why were there so many of them? Is it a question of ideas or simply ego? It’s strange that none of them shared common ground with any of the 110 parties » asked Mrs Madder.

According to the three women, the great number of independents didn’t help progressive forces: « It only divided the vote and gave an advantage to religious parties such as Ennahda. Independents were mostly of left of center ideology like most parties. We are now at the point where if we wish to make a difference in Tunisian politics, we must considered making alliances with those that share the same vision instead of dividing ourselves and thereby allowing our adversaries to slip into the lead. »

Even if they weren't elected, the three young women will continue working hard for their party. « We want to build for the long-term. This was our first election, but many will follow. We must persevere no matter what the results of October 23rd were. This is the only way to surmount the great challenges facing Tunisia. »

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