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Giving a Voice to Tunisia’s Voiceless Citizens

The upcoming May 6 municipal elections in Tunisia will mark the first time citizens will democratically elect their local leaders and will launch the decentralization process in the country. Following the post-revolution 2011 Constituent Assembly elections and the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections, voters have become increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the transition. Coupled with a lack of knowledge about the new local government structure, this frustration makes it critical to inform citizens of the importance of the councils and motivate them to register to vote and participate in the elections. As such, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) employed a multi-pronged, nationwide, interactive voter education campaign, primarily targeting rural and traditionally marginalized voters.

In cooperation with the High Independent Electoral Authority, IFES conducted a multimedia campaign, reaching six million voters during the voter registration period in 2017. IFES broadcast a dozen nationwide TV spots with sign language, and the same number of radio spots to encourage citizens to register to vote. Additionally, IFES deployed trucks to hard-to-access localities to register voters. Over two million voter information materials were printed and distributed during the voter registration period.

To amplify the reach of the radio spots, IFES leveraged its partnership with community radio stations in smaller localities outside the main cities. Moreover, IFES aired a radio show called “Soutkom” (Your Voice) about the municipal elections, which was prepared by IFES trained community radio stations. The show was broadcast in 10 regions from an IFES-built mobile radio studio, allowing access to remote areas of the country. The radio show was facilitated by young local journalists who were trained by IFES to cover the elections in an impartial, accurate and balanced manner. “We are proud to be the first group of journalists [of community radio stations] in Tunisia trained to ensure media coverage of the upcoming elections,” said Houssem Ben Fradj, a radio journalist from Nefzawa in the Kebili region in the South.

As part of an effort to enfranchise illiterate women residing in rural areas, IFES partnered with the Tunisian Mediterranean Center to train and deploy 143 women ambassadors in six northwestern and central governorates with the highest illiteracy rates to encourage them to register and to take part in the municipal elections. In concert with IFES’ program and partner, regional election commissions mobilized voter registration agents to instantly register these potential new voters, women who have previously had little access to election related information. As one newly registered woman from Jendouba, an impoverished region in the northwest of Tunisia, explained, “Men discourage women to vote; women stay in the villages, working at homes while men go to cities and participate in political life by voting.” However, as a result of IFES’ program, the agents registered over 4,200 illiterate rural women, representing 68 percent of those reached during IFES’ women ambassadors’ campaign.

As another outreach tactic, IFES also used cultural events and street theater to provide illiterate citizens with voter awareness messages aimed at increasing spectators’ knowledge of the municipal elections. Tunisia has an illiterate population of 1.7 million, most of whom reside in rural areas and 98 percent of these citizens are voting age, making up about 20 percent of the electorate. Women represent 67.5 percent of the total number of illiterate persons. With local partner Theatre Forum, IFES created a play that was performed by 30 delegations in 10 underdeveloped and impoverished regions of Tunisia with the highest illiteracy rates. The play was followed by a forum with viewers to reflect on the need to participate in elections to change their living conditions, reaching more than 3,000 citizens.

Since post-revolution elections began in 2011, youth participation has been very low. IFES mobilized efforts to reach young voters by deploying voter registration trucks that specifically targeted first-time voters. The trucks visited all universities in the country. Over 4,000 youth registered in 10 days as a result of this activity.

Through its innovative and multi-beneficiary programming, IFES Tunisia succeeded in increasing election-related information available to citizens and in encouraging traditionally marginalized voters to register for the May 6 municipal elections.

Below is a TV spot that aired as part of IFES’ multimedia voter registration campaign:

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