26 February 2020

'Will we eat democracy?': Tunisians frustrated

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As he watched a campaign bus pull into town plastered with slogans and posters for one of the 26 candidates for president, Mondher Jawad slapped his hands with fury while the woman next to him shouted abuse at the candidate’s staff.

“Democracy means nothing to us,” said Jawad, a 45-year-old with no job who has struggled to feed his three children in the dusty town of Fernana near the border with Algeria. “Will we eat or drink democracy?”

The birthplace of the “Arab Spring”, Tunisia is the only country to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy following the 2011 popular revolts that swept autocrats from power across North Africa and the Middle East.

But as the time comes to choose a successor to the first democratically elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in office at 92 in July, many voters are in a dark mood, frustrated by the government’s failure to improve the quality of life.

There is still pride in democracy, and the country’s first televised presidential debates, spread over three successive nights this past week, were widely watched.

Economic opportunities must improve “if Tunisia is to join the club of strong democracy,” Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, one of the presidential candidates, said in an interview with Reuters last month.

2019.09.10 / 22:49
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