Tunisia's Election Commission Organizes Global Campaign Finance Conference
On March 28, 2017, Tunisia’s High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE) organized an international conference on the financing of political life during electoral periods with support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the United Nations Development Programme, the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission. The conference provided an opportunity to examine key issues related to campaign finance through the lens of the French, Mexican, Canadian and Tunisian campaign finance systems. Over 200 people attended the conference, including representatives from the ISIE, the Administrative Tribunal, the Court of Accounts, various ministries, political parties, civil society, media, diplomatic missions and international organizations. Participants shared lessons learned, identified common difficulties and devised potential solutions.
During the opening session of the conference, ISIE President Chafik Sarsar , the winner of IFES’ 2016 Joe C. Baxter award, warned against the influence that money can have on the fairness of an election and on the free expression of the will of voters. Sarsar added that this potential influence is why it is crucial that countries adopt appropriate legislation and establish controlling mechanisms to regulate campaign finance.
Mehdi Ben Gharbia, the Minister for Relations with Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights, underlined the importance of public funding of political parties to ensure that money does not skew the playing field in favor of parties with more significant financial resources. He announced that Tunisia is working on new legislation that will provide public funding to political parties under certain conditions. Public funding should provide the necessary means for political parties to function before, during and after elections and safeguard political pluralism in Tunisia. The minister emphasized that oversight bodies must be given sufficient financial and human resources to ensure they are able to effectively exercise control over campaign finances during the forthcoming municipal elections.
Throughout the conference, a broad consensus emerged between speakers and attendees that public confidence in politicians is decreasing all over the world and that it is crucial to reform aspects of political life following numerous global scandals. Speakers emphasized that if political systems are to address this crisis of confidence, they must adopt strong measures regulating the use of money in politics and promoting transparency and accountability among political actors. In this context, they underlined the importance of adopting realistic and actionable legal frameworks, establishing strong control mechanisms and imposing sanctions. Participants stressed the risk that without strong oversight mechanisms, the control of political finance can remain purely theoretical, and noted that sanctions are indispensable to ensuring the credibility of oversight mechanisms and bodies. To be effective, sanctions must be dissuasive and proportionate. They must also be progressive and diversified to ensure that they can be adapted to the violations.
The conference also provided a platform for discussion of topical issues in Tunisia, such as the financing of non-governmental organizations and media. Participants also discussed the legal framework regulating the usage of opinion polls and exit polls and the prohibition of their publication during electoral periods. One shared conclusion was that it is necessary to constantly review legal frameworks to adjust systems to new practices and developments in the field of campaign finance.
IFES’ contribution to the conference was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative. IFES has assisted Tunisian stakeholders in developing effective systems and regulations for campaign finance and its control in Tunisia since 2012. Ahead of the December 17, 2017 municipal elections, IFES will continue to provide training and technical assistance to relevant institutions to ensure a credible and efficient control of campaign finance.