Tag Archives: vote

How the Tunisian Electoral Authority Robbed Me of the Right to Vote

Nidaa Tounes party wins Tunisia parliamentary elections

Chafik Sarsar, the head of the Tunisian electoral authority (ISIE)

It all started when I initially registered myself to vote in the 2014 legislative elections in New York City. I live in Denver, so I figured it is the best office to vote in since I can usually find pretty cheap air tickets to the Big Apple. Besides, I have a few friends there I could always say hello to – never mind that it is close to 1,800 miles away from where I live. Thing is, it was still too expensive to travel.

The electoral commission offered all residents living and voting abroad the option to change their voting locations. The process was simple enough: send in a copy of your passport, a confirmation of your initial registration, and fill out a PDF form that the ISIE provides. Send it in to your regional representatives, and they will send them back to Tunisia for the ISIE to review. Still with me? Alright. Since I would be visiting The Hague, Netherlands, during the presidential elections (21-23 November), I decided to change my voting location to that office.

I sent in all required documentations. Mind you – all North and South American cities and ‘rest of Europe’ voting locations are part of the same voting district. Districts for Tunisians living abroad are as follows: France 1, France 2, Germany, Italy, Arab world countries, and Americas and rest of Europe. In theory, since you are still within the same district, you should be able to vote in any voting location within it, correct? No. Not according to the electoral authority. For the legislative elections, the ISIE made everyone re-register in order to vote, and if you chose New York (or Houston, or Vienna, or whichever city in the same district): you best believe that that is where you will vote. It is like telling someone: hey sorry, I know you’re still within X county, but you must go to that school (miles away) in order to vote.

Moving on. I submitted all of my documentation to the regional office, and they courteously responded to me confirming that my folder had all the required paperwork and that it was complete. They would then send it to the main authority in Tunis, and wait to hear back.

Tonight, the ISIE released the names of those ‘selected’ to vote. My name was not on there – and neither were the names of many, many others in my district who had requested the change. In the Montreal office, only 3 people were accommodated. THREE. We were not given any reason or justification as to why we were not selected.

To say I feel furious is really an understatement. I am a full Tunisian citizen who has yet to vote even once because of (you guessed it) incompetence coming from the electoral authority. I was so excited to finally be voting for the first time, to be exercising the most fundamental of my rights. But the ISIE decided that it could arbitrarily choose who can vote and who cannot. It decided that it has the power to rob citizens of their rights.

The regional representatives did not have much to say but remind those rejected that it is ‘up to the ISIE’ to decide whose request can be accommodated. The photo below quotes: “The fact that your folder is complete does not guarantee an acceptance from ISIE. Almost every day we have published on our page that it is solely ISIE than can or cannot accept the request. We understand your frustration, but we unfortunately have no further answers than you do.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 8.17.44 PM

Something tells me that politics have to do with it. Though I do not know for certain whether my application was rejected based on political views, I do know this:

  • The ISIE has made it very difficult for Tunisians abroad to practice their right to vote
  • Many instances have been reported where, during the legislative elections, certain individuals would suddenly not find their names in the offices they are registered in (thus, rendering them unable to vote)
  • Some instances have been reported of bureau members convincing their friends (usually with the same political convictions) to go vote, and fill up the booths for the legislative elections

The parliamentary elections were bad enough – extreme disorganization in the offices abroad reigned supreme. Now, the presidential elections will be even worse.

The saddest part is that I have not felt this angry at my country since the times of Ben Ali. Those were the times I felt like my country was constantly rejecting me, making me a second-class citizen every time I tried to open my mouth about this or that, or tried to exercise very basic rights and duties. Today, I feel the very same way.

I feel injustice, and I feel robbed.

I call on the judicial authorities in Tunisia to initiate an investigation and find answers to the following question: under what basis were Tunisian citizens forfeited their right to vote? Why were the location change requests denied? And under what basis? 

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Issuing Deliverance – Women in Modern Times

(Warning: this is a rant. Nothing new in this post.)

The key distinction is the idea of issu-ING deliverance, for it has surely not been issued completely yet. When we look back on all that women have gone through – and I speak from the position of being a woman of color in the United States – we see that history has carried women on its ebb and flow, consistently carrying them through failures and gains. 

And we must acknowledge the gains, and honor the women and men that fought so hard for them. Women now can vote and are active members of society. It is generally well accepted that the female gender is and will always remain an important and entire one half of the population.

Yet, I feel fury at times because that as women, we still accept the fact that senile old men in richly decorated offices get to dictate what we do with our bodies. We still accept the fact that in some states, women have to pay higher insurance rates than men. We accept the fact that a woman’s decision to rear a child is not entirely in her hands. We accept the fact that Planned Parenthood is being cut left and right by our elected officials. We accept unequal pay based on gender. We accept the fact that our legislatures institutionalize policies that condemn us to being less than fully adult human beings.

We cannot accept this anymore, because the truth is, we have not been delivered. Deliverance has not been issued, and we are the only ones that can issue it.

We must be fearless.

Constituent Assembly Response to Voting Cheats: Life Goes On

To vote constitutes an elemental right of the citizens of any functioning democracy, and acts dually as an entrusted responsibility of the officials that are elected. These officials are to vote on issues that we, as citizens, give them permission to represent our interests on. Last October 23rd, Tunisian citizens did just that: they held a fair and transparent election. It was held during the in-between hours of a dictatorship’s fallen dusk and a democracy’s glowing dawn. A new state, to be governed by the rule of law and most importantly, according to the will of the People, was to be ushered in through the Constituent Assembly elections and the reforms they are to undertake. A body of 217 representatives, coming from all walks of life, was inaugurated on November 22nd.

There, in that assembly room in the Palace of Bardo, everyone is on equal ground. A vote is a vote. One person, one representative, one vote. The assembly even voted on (and passed) a very specific clause within the internal bylaws document that detailed this responsibility and its sacredness in the context of the assembly’s operations. Section 4, clause 94, says: “The vote is personal and cannot be done on anyone’s behalf or through any correspondence. A vote can be a vote of approval, rejection, or abstention.

Starting on May 3rd, videos of our entrusted elected officials cheating and playing with their votes and the votes of others – committing electoral procedural fraud – in the Constituent Assembly started circulating on the internet. Two videos in particular were very quickly circulated on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The videos show assembly members Abdelmounem Krir (ex-Aridha) and Iyed Dahmani (PDP) voting “in the place” of other assembly members who were absent at the time of the vote. The videos caught the two members red handed. Further, there is no denying the credibility of the footages, which appear to be recorded on mobile phones or some other portable recording devices.

Of course, we can give the two members the benefit of the doubt and believe them when they say “in the place” of other representatives (as opposed to simply using an absent member’s voting privilege to vote two, three times). But sparing the representatives the latter, the former – according to the internal bylaws that they themselves voted on – is equally damning. Voting on behalf of another representative is forbidden by the letter. The clear language used in §4.94 leaves no room for interpretation.

To my surprise, however, the internal bylaws governing the Tunisian Constituent Assembly do not outline any measures that can be taken to sanction these transgressions.

On May 3rd, the same day representatives Krir and Dahmani were recorded, I was actually at the Constituent Assembly. I began speaking with some assembly members about the general lack of vote traceability. On one vote the day before, the electoral voting system declared that 174 members voted – whereas only around 130 members were physically present* in the room. When recess came along, I headed down to the café below the general assembly’s meeting room, where I found many representatives taking a break. I spoke with the Constituent Assembly’s second vice-president, Arbi Abid, about the number that simply did not match up – and the strong doubts I had about the legitimacy of the vote. At first, he did not believe what I was telling him – he was shocked. I insisted that they cancel yesterday’s vote and repeat it by show of hands, since the electronic system, as of now, does not show which member votes how exactly. He promised that he would take the issue back to his bureau’s meeting that he rushed off to right after our conversation. The bureau consists of himself, the president of the assembly Mustafa Ben Jaafer, and first vice president Mehrzia Labidi, among other administrative members. In the meanwhile, I spoke with representatives Azed Badi, Slim Abdessalem, Nadia Chaabane, and others sitting nearby, about the same problem. Representative Chaabane has been one of the few assembly members who, using Twitter, first got the word out on these shameful practices.

During a vote held the next day, similar doubts were raised by representatives Azed Badi (ex-CPR, now a member of the Democratic Independent Congress) and Sahbi Atig (Ennahda). In another vote the same day, Mustafa Ben Jaafer, president of the assembly, had the same doubts myself and many other Tunisian citizens had. He mandated that the vote in question be redone. Representative Ferjani Doghmane, however, who is the president of the finance committee, suggested that Ben Jaafer counts the number of representatives present by show of hands (so that the numbers of the original vote are preserved for reference). And indeed, the show of hands made it clear that some assembly members voted twice (or more) in the place of others that were absent.

Some days later, representative Azed Badi started a petition that called for a deeper probe into the votes and greater transparency in the Constituent Assembly, including vote traceability. I have called representative Badi and asked for a copy of the petition – he has promised to send a copy my way along with the signatories as soon as he can. This article will be appropriately updated with a link to the petition.

What is most alarming in this dilemma is the lack of any official response from the two members in question – you would think they would resign in shame upon the circulation of the videos. By sheer mathematics, they are certainly not the only ones to cheat during a vote. However, even the media did not do an adequate job covering the transgressions. The Tunisian national budget was passed through a series of invalid votes. The resources that the functioning of a whole society depend on are not being distributed according to the people’s will. The trust of the Tunisian voter has been betrayed. How are the media – and legal experts, watch group organizations, etc – not taking any official action to fight these shameful actions?

Starting on May 5th, the OpenGovTN initiative began discussing a new campaign that will address 1. voting traceability in the assembly, and 2. the release of all committee meeting minutes. #7ell2 [#Open2] is the name – and so far, the group has been the only one to respond in a serious manner to the voting fraud. They have met with Mustafa Ben Jaafer and extracted a response from him: he promised to give in to both demands. The deadline is May 31st. If no official changes take place, the OpenGovTN group has threatened to seek legal action.

I feel ashamed just writing about these transgressions. Still in a state of psychological shock, disappointment, bitterness – whatever it is – it pains me to write in plain English letters: several Constituent Assembly members are cheating with their votes and are not performing their lawfully entrusted duties. Each representative who cheats represents 1000s of Tunisians, and the trust of each one of those Tunisians has been violated in bad faith. It is through the practices such as these that the Tunisian people may never get to live the dawn of democracy.

*The absenteeism that plagues the assembly is another topic that necessitates equal attention and diligent writing.