Today, seven million Tunisians go to the polls to choose the next president of the country. The elections will be the second since the revolution in 2011 which ended the 23-year-rule of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisia, unlike other countries which saw uprisings in 2011, has been able to consolidate and fortify its democracy and the democratic processes.
However, those in power since the revolution have been unable to confront and address the deep-seated economic challenges in the country. Tunisia is currently suffering from low economic growth, a massive increase in foreign debt, rising unemployment, and inflation. For the left, the economic crisis in the country is evidence of the fact that the neoliberal capitalist model which bows to pressure from international financial institutions and imposes anti-worker and anti-people policies, must be defeated.
Spearheading the opposition to such right-wing neoliberal policies is the Popular Front of Tunisia, a coalition of left-wing parties that has been gaining in strength since 2011. In these presidential elections, the candidate of the Popular Front is Hamma Hammami. Hammami is a lifelong revolutionary and a founding member of the Workers’ Party.
However, Hammami’s campaign has faced a number of obstacles from the state. Among the other 25 candidates is the current prime minister and former ministers. Nawres Douzi. Hammami’s assistant and press attaché, told Peoples Dispatch that candidates with institutional ties have been using state machinery for their own campaigns, which violates the basic principle of equal opportunity in elections.
The past week saw an instance of this. During the presidential debate, Hammami alleged that prime minister Youssef Chahed was corrupt. Shortly after, the Hamma campaign was informed that they were no longer allowed to hold their final campaign event on Avenue Habib Bourguiba (a central avenue in the capital with great historic and economic significance) despite them being the first to ask. They were told that they had not been the first to ask and that the space had been given to a right-wing candidate.
In response to the announcement, members of Hamma’s campaign team and the Popular Front staged a sit-in to demand access to the space. The police and army unleashed repression on the protesters. In the end, the Popular Front cadre were able to hold the event there.
On the eve of the elections, Douzi said that the Peoples Front was confident “knowing that we’re facing the system and money-machines and very corrupt businesses and powerful men.”
She added that even those who opposed Hammami for ideological reasons respected him.
Speaking about the importance of Hamma’s candidature, she noted that Hamma was not only a leftist who opposed tyrannical regimes over decades but is a symbol of the collective memory of the people’s struggle and the struggle of the left and with regards to human rights. “Hamma has never backed down from standing up to these regimes since he was young. He has always been the voice of the marginalized people, the poor, the working class and the oppressed,” she noted.
“For the people, Hamma has always been red, red as in blood and revolution and the color of our national flag,” she concluded