Supporting democratic elections in the new Tunisia
by Jamel Haouas, first place winner, UNDP's storytelling contest
Sumaya Al Arounony, a second year student of informatics from the coastal town of Ben Arous in Tunisia, had never voted before. But, on the morning of 23 October 2011 that was not the only reason for her eagerness to vote. She was also a candidate and, at 22, one of the youngest on the list.
“I am tenth on my party list. I have little chance of winning but I felt I had to do something for my country,” she enthusiastically explained. “Today, I vote for Tunisia.”
- 33.9 percent of Tunisians use the internet, and 24.5 percent use Facebook.
- 10,000 people played the DemocraTweet game during the 3 weeks it was accessible on Mosaique FM’s Facebook page.
- In its first week, the Enti Essout song was downloaded 100,000 times and ran extensively on all radio and TV (video clip) channels in Tunisia.
Millions of other Tunisians showed a similar kind of determination to make the elections for Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly work. The Assembly has been pushed to prepare a new Constitution for Tunisia, act as interim Parliament and nominate an interim Government to rule until new elections are held under the new Constitution.
In fact, out of the 4.1 million Tunisian citizens who registered to vote, a record-breaking 76 percent actually voted, according to the Independent High Authority for the Elections.
Like Al Arounony, many young voters were exercising their right to vote for the first time in their lives.
In such a young, highly “wired” population like Tunisia – 1 in 3 Tunisians is an Internet user and 1 in 4 has a Facebook account – resorting to social media to reach out to youth with civic education content was a natural choice.
Three weeks before Tunisia’s first free democratic elections, UNDP teamed up with the the country’s Radio Mosaique FM to launch “DemocraTweet,” a voters’ educational game aimed at mobilizing youth to actively participate in the electoral process and to educate them about the importance of voting to ensure their rights and freedoms.
Radio Mosaique FM is Tunisia’s leading radio station. It also operates Tunisia’s most-trafficked website and a Facebook page that gets 400,000 hits per day.
“Because they represent a significant portion of the population, and because of the pivotal role they played in the revolution, it was very important to reach out to youth, especially in pre-election campaigns,” said Philippa Neave, Public Outreach Adviser in UNDP’s Support to the Electoral Process in Tunisia project.
Game players learned about the democratic system, the role and tasks of the National Constituent Assembly and the institutional framework for elections.
The game also included information on the electoral process, including election procedures, and the importance of a large voter turnout if the results are to be accepted by Tunisians.
UNDP also commissioned an election song, called “Enti Essout (You are the Voice).” The song was written, composed and performed by a group of emerging young artists on the contemporary world music scene who retain strong Tunisian roots.
It encouraged Tunisian youth to play an active part in the construction of a new Tunisia. Launched four weeks before the elections, the song quickly went viral, with more than 100,000 free downloads. For many of its fans it became the election’s anthem.
“Given the legacy of elections under the old regime, there was a lot of suspicion and fear. People were intimidated by the elections,” Neave said. “We wanted to turn that around. With the game and the song, we wanted to make elections fun, an event to be celebrated and enjoyed.”
UNDP, together with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the European Union, also worked closely with the country’s Election Authority to provide technical support for the development of a comprehensive public information and communication strategy for the elections.
This effort included support on three consecutive and comprehensive campaigns that, despite severe time pressures, reached the wide population through television, radio, newspaper ads, billboards and face-to-face communication. The first campaign was most successful and mobilized large numbers of Tunisians to register to vote. The other two provided information on special voting centres for those who failed to register on time and motivated people to go out and vote.
UNDP also helped the Authority to develop a step-by-step training video on elections procedures for its staff, which was then adapted into an informative
TV spot for the general public.
The huge turnout in the 23 October elections was a credit, first and foremost, to the will of the Tunisian people, who seem to have resolved to allow nothing to stop their voices from being heard.
Or, as the “Enti Essout” song declared in its refrain: “They will never prevail, even if they raise walls, my people, you are the voice (the vote).”
About the Author: Jamel Haouas is a communications consultant for UNDP in Tunisia. Before joining the UN in 2011, he was a marketing communications adviser in the private sector in Paris.
The first issue of The Development Advocate showcases the 12 winning entries of UNDP’s first annual storytelling competition in an easy-to-read and cost-efficient newspaper-style format.