Current Weather
The Spy FM

Tunisians Wake To Their Very First Election Day

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
October 23, 2011

Tunisians are voting Sunday in the country’s first free and democratic election. The small North African nation was the first to overthrow its dictator last January in a popular movement that soon spread to other authoritarian Arab nations.

Now, analysts say what happens in Tunisia will be key to whether democracy is to take root across the rest of the Arab world.

The streets of Tunis were calm and sunny Sunday morning, but there was an underlying excitement in the capital that even a visitor could feel. For the first time in their country’s history, Tunisians are going to the polls to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Tunisians have lived under one-party, one-man rule since the country won its independence from France in 1956. Tunisians say the last 10 years under dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were unbearable.

A get-out-the-vote video airing on Tunisian television gives a feeling of the huge change the country is now going through.

“We were depressed, broken, terrified and exploited,” says a voice, to scenes of despairing citizens. “But now we are motivated, ambitious and optimistic. Our heads are up. Tunisia will vote.”

But with more than 100 parties and thousands of candidates to choose from, voting is not so easy. And some Tunisians say it’s also a bit stressful.

In a working class neighborhood of Tunis, a group of middle-aged men who grew up together sat outside their usual cafe. Before, they said, they could only talk about football. Now they can’t stop arguing about politics.

Mohammed Khelifa says the uncertainty is killing him.

“Some of us don’t know who to choose, and it’s a mystery who’s going get the most votes,” Khelifa said. “Before, we always knew who would win, and I guess we kind of got used to that.”

Tunisians are electing a 217-seat assembly that will draft a new constitution as well as choose a president. One of the biggest political debates at cafes and dinner tables is how much support the Islamist Party will get.

Thousands of people showed up at a campaign rally for the Islamist Party, called Ennahdha, on Friday. The excited crowd sang the Tunisian national anthem. Many people there said they trust the Islamists because of what they’ve been through. Under dictator Ben Ali, religious people were persecuted and jailed. Many Islamists fled into exile.

Ennahdha says it wants to work within a democracy and has no intention of trying to impose Islamic rule, but many Tunisians fear the party has a hidden agenda. Tunisia is the Arab world’s most moderate and modern country, and its large, secular segment of society is afraid of an overly religious influence in the new Tunisia.

“This is the first time an Arab country tried to build a new democracy — an Arab democracy,” said political analyst Fare Mabrouk.

Mabrouk said the vote count is not the most important thing.

“I think the Arab world needs a successful transition to democracy, and I think Tunisia is the best candidate for that,” he said. “So we have here the conditions for this transition to succeed. So we need to succeed. We have no choice — not only for Tunisia but also for rest of the Arab world.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center