Thoughts From the Field: Supporting Tunisia's 2019 National Elections
by Patrick Clark*
In the summer of 2019 I traveled twice to Tunisia to assist the field office in supporting the High Independent Authority for Elections’ (ISIE) preparations for the 2019 national elections, scheduled for September and October. It was a challenging context, for on July 25, Republic Day, about four months before the first round of the presidential election was to take place, the president passed away. His death necessitated an accelerated electoral calendar, with the first round of the presidential elections now on September 15, and an accelerated implementation timeline for the ISIE.
During my first trip we helped the ISIE to meet their new implementation timeline. Two activities stand out in particular: trainings for ISIE officials and master trainers, and establishment of the 2019 ISIE Elections Media Center (EMC). In the run-up to the elections, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) supported the ISIE in organizing a flurry of trainings on three central electoral topics: candidate nominations, campaign finance, and voting and counting. The trainings aimed to build the capacity of a cadre of election officials who would then train poll workers and other temporary staff. At the same time, IFES supported the ISIE in planning for the EMC through technical assistance, operational support and procurement of services.
On my second trip I had the opportunity to see the outcome of this work. On September 12 the EMC opened before a large audience, including international journalists and the interim president. Because the EMC is the central hub for the ISIE to televise all election information, how the EMC functioned would have huge consequences for how the elections were perceived. The ISIE was under intense scrutiny, and it passed the test: more than 500 people attended the opening night. Then on Election Day, September 15, I visited several polling stations in and around Tunis, where the busy poll workers stood as testimony to the efficacy of the trainings. Indeed, the European Union Election Observation Mission certified that “the process was well-organized and that election day took place in a peaceful and orderly fashion.”
International observers concluded that the elections were “a positive achievement and an important step in the consolidation of the country’s developing democratic political system.”
When the preliminary results were announced on September 17, 3,465,380 voters had cast ballots, or 49 percent of registered voters. Though the percentage of voters declined from the first round of the 2014 presidential election, the total number of votes cast in 2019 increased from 2014. International observers concluded that the elections were “a positive achievement and an important step in the consolidation of the country’s developing democratic political system.”
These words give me hope in Tunisia, for the ISIE, despite many challenges, successfully led Tunisia to another milestone in the consolidation of their democracy: the first peaceful transition of power from one head of state to the next. But Tunisia’s success also makes me proud of IFES for the support we were able to provide to the ISIE during this challenging time.
*Patrick Clark is a program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at IFES.