INTERVIEW: Tunisia's 1st female presidential candidate not supported by women's groups

Karem Yehia, Tunis , Monday 12 Jan 2015

Ahram Online speaks to Kalthoum Kannou, a female judge who came 11th in the first round of Tunisia's elections in November

Kalthoum Kannou
Kalthoum Kannou (Photo: Karem Yehia)

As the fourth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution on 14 January nears, the name of Tunisia’s first female presidential candidate, Kalthoum Kannou, is circulating after she became only the second woman to run for the post in the Maghreb, after Algerian Louisa Hanoune.

Kalthoum Kannou, a judge, came 11th out of a total of 27 candidates in the first round of the presidential elections in late November. Veteran politican Beji Caid Essebsi went on to win, but Kannou secured around 18,000 votes in Tunisia, a country that prides itself on being a leader on women’s rights issues in the Arab world.

Kanou, who has always said that without the revolution she would not have been able to run, talked to Ahram Online about her experience.

She has been a judge for more than 26 years and was head of the Judges Association between 2011 and 2013, and during her campaign she supported reform of the judiciary in Tunisia.

AO: Was your decision to run for elections based on being a female candidate?

Kalthoum Kannou: No, I am a Tunisian citizen before anything else; I have what it takes. I have enough experience, efficiency and courage to run for the position. I was an independent candidate and I remained focused on this rather than relying on being a woman. I was not a partisan despite my interest in the public affairs.

AO: After getting this number of votes, did you regret running for the presidency?

KK: No I don’t regret it. On the contrary I am planning to run in the next presidential elections (which are due in five years according to the Tunisian constitution). I didn’t have experience in politics or in the process of presidential elections, but I am proud that I was able to gain support from young people, the elderly, men and women. Some of them are independent and some of them are partisan. Those who voted for me were the ones who believed in a woman's right to run for election.

AO: What did you learn from the elections?

KK: The negative aspects taught me a lot as I went directly to the electoral campaign without preparing myself; I was not ready and now I realise that I should have prepared my publicity prior to the elections.  I was also not financially ready. I was able to prove though that Tunisian women are able to reach important positions and challenge an oppressive patriarchal hierarchy.

AO: How would you evaluate the media's position on your candidacy?

KK: The Tunisian media wasn't fair to me compared with the foreign media. They let me down; they were caught up between the polarization between Essebsi and Moncef Marzouki. What was positive for me is that I directly contacted the voters. I was not afraid to visit rural and dangerous areas.

AO: How did Tunisians react to a having a female presidential candidate?

KK: Everyone accepted the idea and people welcomed it very much; they really didn't have any problem with it.

My campaign focused on reaching the people from the countryside more than those in urban areas and developed cities, and I take pride that most of the signatures in support of me came from moderate people, some illiterate.

AO: But why wasn’t that reflected in the votes?

KK: Most of the people who voted for me were from the countryside, which was not easy. Now I have the ground that will help me in the future. My campaign was clean, because I was honest about (issues like) freedom of belief and freedom of thought which were being avoided by all candidates. I did not make fake promises and I did not use religion like many other candidates did.

AO: Did women's organisations support you in the elections?

KK: Actually they didn't give me enough support. They let me down. The reason behind that is because of the polarisation between Mazrouki and Essebsi.

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