Tag Archives: elections

iWatch is a Major Piece of Democracy Protection in Tunisia

Catania    I had heard about iWatch before arriving in Tunis from one of our leaders in Grenoble, who has roots in Tunisia, and said we had to meet with them.  Their website seemed to identify them as an anti-corruption nonprofit.  Once in Tunis it seemed to the Organizers’ Forum delegation that everywhere we went, we heard about their work, whether it was at the Jasmine Foundation or in the Nadha party offices.  When it came to talking about institutions that were protecting the democracy, iWatch would be mentioned.  Quickly, it became clear that they were absolutely monitoring corruption, but they were also smackdab in the middle of the election process itself.  In fact, one of the candidates leading the polls was running from jail and it seemed he was in jail largely because of the work of iWatch.  Finally, it was becoming clear why the president Achraf Aouadi was having trouble fixing the time:  they were in the bunkers with incoming fire from all sides.

We met with Achraf on our final day at the Café du Theatre, which had become our clubhouse of sorts where we had conducted one meeting after another on the main boulevard of Tunis.  Achraf jumped right into our briefing with no holds barred.  They had sued four of the candidates for corruption, violations that the court was now considering.  The suits had gone viral.  Polls indicated that almost a quarter of the population knew iWatch and those who knew it were wildly supportive.  They had learned something else from their analysis of the data.  Where they thought their primary support was young men, it turned out to be younger women.  Where they had thought they were mobilizing primarily their friendship networks, it turned out they had a national support base.

The organization was founded as a nonprofit after the revolution in 2011.  When we asked Achraf about the scope of their organization, he flatly stated that in terms of the civil society sector they were probably only second to UGTT, the big trade union federation, in resources.  Their budget had blown up during the elections to $1.5 million USD, all of it coming from outside donors, largely the European Union and Scandinavian countries.  They had seven offices in regions around the country.  Their staff was around 140 people now and normally almost fifty.

As president of iWatch, Achraf was not an employee, so like ACORN there was a separation of elected leadership from paid staff.  He made his living as a consultant for various enterprises both public and private.  They were young, hip and different.  They did festivals for a month instead of conferences.  They wouldn’t go to luxury hotels.  They abhorred USAID funding. The organizational structure was complicated.  They had recently decentralized with directors of the various teams from research to communications.  Wisely, they had applied for a radio license in Tunis.  They wanted to equalize their headquarters resources with their regions.

We were able to get insight into the complicated results of the election.  Nothing was quite as it appeared.  The rumor of 1.5 million new registrants was “fake news,” he told us.  A number of candidates could still be disqualified, even if appearing to lead in the polls.  It was as possible that some charged would flee the country, rather than take their seats even if they won.

Our heads were spinning as we tried to absorb all we were hearing.  Our fingers were flying as we tried to make notes of all of the information.  We were clear as well that iWatch was absolutely central to the forces protecting democracy.  They were under attack, but they were hunkering down to be able to survive and build for the next steps.

You watch, we watch, we all watch iWatch to see what happens next in Tunisia.

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Please enjoy Walls by The Long Ryders.

Thanks to KABF.

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The Quiet Before the Election

Tunis        Saturday before the election in Tunisia, another huge test of the fragile democracy forged during the Arab Spring, there was quiet.  The election rules had ended debates and public campaigning the day before the election.  In fact, the Organizers’ Forum had to reschedule one of our events because there was a rule against public gatherings of almost any form.  After days of endless debates on the central boulevard, it seemed nice to have some relative peace.

Such a rule is not common in the United States, except in union elections before the National Labor Relations Board.  In these instances, there is a 24-hour rule, where a company is well-advised to maintain some silence, because any new allegations trigger unfair labor practices that could lead to filing election objections and rerunning the vote.  The simple reason is that the union would not have enough time to respond to a company fabrication to offset its impact in the 24-hours prior to voting.  As I’ve often explained, the rules for elections under the NLRB make lying legal as long as the union has enough time to try in an uneven situation to tell the truth, up until the final day.

This is unlikely the reason for the quiet period in Tunisia.  ACORN’s organizer in Kenya, part of our delegation this year, said that a similar end to campaigning was mandated in his country.  It is likely common elsewhere as well, even if unknown in the USA.  The argument is that it allows voters to reflect and make their judgments more soberly.

Soberly, is key.  There are still rules in many parts of the United States about whether liquor can be sold on election day or, if sold, in what proximity it can be hawked to the voters.  Such rules have deep roots in the old school American practice of selling votes.  I can remember hearing similar stories from by great uncle, Grady Bullock, who served several terms as a county judge in a farming county north of Memphis.  Elections, he described, were one-dollar a vote and a lot to liquor, both central to the GOTV program there.

Walking through the city and the Medina, there were numbered blocks painted on some walls between one and twenty-six and one and forty some.  The purpose was to allow pictures of candidates or parties in the voting places to be presented so voters could poll by the numbers.  An interesting technique.

The first set of elections had seen voting percentages in the high 60%, which was encouraging, but the more recent municipal elections had been only about 38% of eligible voters.  Expectations are high for the democracy, especially for the economy, and have been hard to deliver, depressing enthusiasm at the polls.  There are many election observers present to observe, and, hopefully protect, the process.  Reports that came to our organizers of an unprecedented surge that registered 1.5 million voters has some worried about the outcome of the election.

A 50% majority is required, so with 26 candidates remaining, a runoff is virtually assured.  This will be interesting to watch.

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