In a period marked by continuing controversy over Article 15 (whose debate and unresolved status has spilled over its designated discussion period) and the looming elections deadline (the surpassing of which would be an unconstitutional delay), any and all parties and potential candidates are fixed in the public gaze, every word and gesture measured and interpreted in correlation with the election process and prospects for claiming a place within the first elected government at the end of the transition period. Party slogans and posters, political banter, and the infiltration of politicians throughout digital and geographic landscapes has proven fairly impossible to ignore.
April 9, 1938 – Another National Holiday … of Political Campaigns
The national Fête des Martyrs was celebrated this past Wednesday as ministries, civil servants, and students took the day off from work and classes in honor of Tunisia’s martyrs. According to La Presse de Tunisie,
…April 9 is the holiday of all of our martrys, not just those of 1938, but also those of the revolution, as well as those after such as Chokri Belaid et deputy Mohamed Brahmi, and the soldiers and police fallen in the field of battle against the terrorist enemy.» R.S., A Tradition that Moves
National holidays of late have set the stage for political campaigns. Like the March 20 Independence Day celebrations, April 9 was an apparently irrestistible patriotic setting for parties and party leaders to assert their political prowess and presence, riding on the legendary status of Tunisia’s martyrs to promote their own status leading up to elections. In Sfax, Ettakatol organized a demonstration in honor of country’s martyrs as well as the the party’s twenty-year anniversary; Nidaa Tunis held meetings in Medenine, Rades, Testour, and Sijoumi; Rachid Ghannouchi of Ennahda addressed the crowd in Beja; Hamma Hammami of the Popular Front essentially declared his presidential candidacy and conservative parties Tunis Al-Zaituna and the Reform and Development Party were present in Tunis. Describing the atmosphere in the capital, La Presse de Tunisie noted «More often than not, the subjects evoked had but a distant connection to the Fête des Martyrs,» as predominant sentiments and preoccupations were largely associated with pressing socio-economic issues. The same article also observed that
…the majority of political parties, including Ennahda—and this is recent—are staking claim to this historical legacy.Samira Dami, The Meaning of a Legacy
This in spite of—or directly contributing to—evidence that Tunisians are neither impressed nor convinced by the quality, sincerity, and overall integrity of political actors. A recent Sigma Conseil poll suggests that the majority of Tunisians are thus far uncertain about their voting preferences, and that, since February, the number of undecided potential voters has increased to 55% and 63% for presidential and legislative elections respectively. Interpreting the survey, a La Presse de Tunisie analysis remarks,
In spite of their efforts in this premature electoral campaign, parties and party leaders do not have [citizens] convinced. It is true that proposed agendas are virtually inexistant and that diatribes, accusations, and insults prevail, as illustrated by what is occurring within the ANC, where deputies are bickering amongst themselves to pass the unconsitutional exclusion of their potential adversairies.Abdelhamid Gmati, The Indecision of Tunisians
Political Cartoon (La Presse.tn)
‘A Pragmatic Businessman’
Curiously, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomâa, whose presence in national and foreign media has surged preceding and following his visit to Washington early this month, holds 21.1% of intended votes, and this when there has been no official indication of (nor notably any established regulation governing) the possibility of his candidacy. The appearance of Jomâa’s name amongst the three most favored potential presidential candidates and his popularity in the US have raised eyebrows and, needless to say, some important questions.
These are honors that no post-revolution Tunisian head of government has been granted. It is clear that the United States of America thus shows its support and preference for a government of technocrats headed by Mehdi Jomâa. In granting him this international status and agreeing to reach for its wallet, America confirms its approval for this selection issuing from the National Dialogue…But is Americans’ treatment of Mehdi Jomâa compared to their treatment of Ali Laarayedh or even Hamadi Jebali not in itself a message? Yes, without a doubt.Marouen Achouri, What Americans Think of Mehdi Jomâa’s Visit to Washington
While American media fairly indiscriminately shouts the Prime Minister’s praise, Tunisian media reflects a public wary and divided. A Business News article published after Friday’s economic discussion points to the degree of blatant concern that the government—particularly the Prime Minister and official public statements like the one issued yesterday—conveys in addressing the citizenry. «In its communication policy, the government does not deny its concern and seems to want to make things clear.» Calling for citizens to recognize the severity of the situation and political parties to be a productive part of the recovery process, the press release issued yesterday is apparently not reflective of all government officials’ interpretations of the economic situation, as several public figures have refuted statements conerning the government’s inability to pay its employees’ salaries and disavowed the «tone of alarm» in favor of a more moderate perspective that recognizes the fragility of the economy as well as prospects for recovery through local and foreign investment.
Whereas abroad, «it is whispered in the halls of Washington that Mehdi Jomâa’s profile pleased [Americans] because it is that of a ‘pragmatic businessman,’ his discourse addressed to Tunisians pertaining to the country’s delicate economic situation has «stirred gossip and accusations of exaggeration and conspiracy theories.» A glimpse into public response follows an article on Jomâa’s comments about the 350 million dinars borrowed to cover civil servants’ salaries for the month of April. Within less than twenty-four hours, a flood of comments appeared ranging from sarcastic and biting remarks to lengthy and elaborate interpretations, advice and a few well-informed proposals on how the government can work towards economic recovery. To highlight a few (without indulging in posting some of the lengthier and thoroughly-developed suggestions):
The government risks…discouraging investors in its communications with the public. Why these statements? It’s too much.
Politicians Have the Solutions—but they don’t want to propose them for fear of losing their popularity—and they are:
– General temporary reduction of all salaries, which is better than [throwing] everyone out
– Immediate removal of the compensation funds which serves no one but the rich
– Require every person to pay his part in taxes through the implementation of a MINIMAL TAX
– Increase the retirement age
…Now Tunisians no longer have a choice; either they rise through productive work as a man driven by unprecedented patriotism, or they perish. But unfortunately the Tunisian people after the cursed revolution does not inspire the least amount of confidence.
The Solution Already!…but of course this has been known for a long time…the burden of civil servant salaries weighs heavy on taxpayers, and everyone knows well that at least fifty percent of the body of civil servants is surplus…the solution is obvious!!!!!!!!!!!
The first of economic initiatives to make is to close Carthage Palace and to stop paying the interim president and all palace officials and henchmen; the second initiative is to close the ANC and to stop paying its constituents; the third initiatives is to sell all company cars belonging to these fine people; these savings would enable the remuneration of civil servants hard at work and who deserve to be better paid than before.