Tunisian candidates battle to get poll messages across

AFP , Tuesday 11 Oct 2011

Tunisians running for the constituent assembly tasked with drafting their new constitution scramble to gain support in a sea of electoral lists

Tunisians look at election posters in Tunis, Tunisia, October 1, (AP).

As a monotonous stream of political campaign messages assails Tunisians over public radio and television for up to four hours every day, few candidates break the mould.

The studio decor is the same for each of the nearly 1,500 candidates' lists to get three minutes of national airtime in the campaign for October 23 constituent assembly elections: a dull background in two shades of blue.

Most of the speakers are men in suits, reading from prepared texts and hardly looking at the camera.

But Lilia Ayedi who leads the "Independent List of January 15" decided to do things differently.

With her arms crossed and a mauve band covering her mouth, a colour synonymous with ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Ayedi remains silent at first. Then, she starts applauding.

At last she removes the gag and states: "They oppressed me, they oppressed you. We were all oppressed".

Ayedi speaks slowly and articulates well in the Tunisian dialect as opposed to most of the others who rush through their messages in high Arabic.

At the end of her message, Ayedi takes off a black top to reveal a white T-shirt with the words "Tomorrow is for us", in Arabic.

Of the three authorised minutes, she uses only half -- enough to draw the attention of Tunisian social networks, which had been the main source of information during the December-to-January uprising that unseated Ben Ali.

Some congratulate Ayedi for originality, but others criticise a lack of focus on her electoral programme.

"The aim is that people remember," said Ayedi, who summarises her programme in three words: transparency, citizenship and competence.

The Independent List of January 15, one of 587 lists not aligned to any political party, from a total 1,428, is exclusively contesting the Ariana suburb of Tunis.

Ariana has 95 lists contesting for some 180,000 voters and eight seats on the 218-member assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls.

Ayedi is one of just five percent of female list toppers.

Kame Jendoubi, head of the ISIE electoral commission, said campaigning had started "timidly", but was gathering pace fast.

"On Saturday, about 40 public meetings were announced countrywide. The company is visibly gaining momentum and intensity," he said.

"The second week will be more animated".

Especially independents were having trouble, with less campaigning experience and fewer means, said Jendoubi.

On the eighth day of campaigning, "there are still empty spaces" on walls around the country dedicated for displaying candidates lists.

The list led by Ayedi had received 3,500 dinars (about 1,750 euros) from the state to finance its election campaign, allowing the eight candidates to print posters which they are now putting up themselves, every night.

The total public allocation for campaigning, which varies according to the number of registered voters per district, has reached about 10 million dinars -- half of it paid out at the start of campaigning and the rest 10 days after it closes on October 21.

Nearly 11,000 candidates are due to contest the elections in 27 districts, with opinion polls showing that the profusion has left voters undecided.

Many observers consider the Islamist movement Al-Nahda (Renaissance) the favourite to win the most votes.

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