5 lessons from the Tunisian Registration drive

Yesterday’s close of the voter registration process was anticlimactic. In the first major work of the Tunisian Independent Elections Commission (ISIE), 52 percent of Tunisians registered for the October 23 elections of the constituent assembly, which will draft a new constitution for the country.

Despite a robust registration campaign, efforts were hampered by the combination of Ramadan and summer holidays, voter apathy and distrust, and some mixed messages from elections authorities about who needed to register.

I’ve written extensively on voter registration in the past few weeks (here, here, here, and here). Here are some key lessons I’ve learned from the campaign and how it may effect the upcoming elections:

1) The ISIE has show an ability to adjust to changing circumstances. Extending the registration deadline, increasing communications, and adapting to the needs of the electorate are a good sign for the elections.

2) The ISIE has been transparent in its process, posting registration numbers everyday. This is a good example and one that will hopefully reassure voters who have a long memory of fraudulent elections.

3) If Missouri is the Show-Me-State, Tunisia is the Show-Me-Country. Voters have shown that politicians must be convincing and trustworthy before Tunisians will hand them the keys to the country (see also lesson 5).

4) Civil society and ISIE must work together to drive voter turnout. However distrustful Tunisians are of the political process (see lesson 3), the legitimacy of the elections is critical for the country to move forward. A protest vote is better than no vote at all. Civil society groups must help convince voters that their voice is needed, even if the politicians cannot.

5) Political parties have a lot of work to do in order to convince voters. Petty debates rather than bread and butter issues will only further alienate Tunisians. The party that responds best to these issues (psst….it’s the economy) has the best chance come October.

There are about two weeks before the end of Ramadan and summer. Smart political parties, the ISIE, and civil society organizations will likely use this time to strategize for the last few weeks of the campaign.

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