A young girl picking up her democratic enthusiasm from her parents, a young “Bajboujer”. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

Never underestimate the killer instincts of a class whose power and influence are under threat. They bite back, and hard. For make no mistake, with the huge margin of victory Nidaa Tounis managed to muster a few weeks ago in the legislative elections, the bite was a sizable one and subsequently any chance of fundamental social and political change have been dealt an unquantifiable blow.

Today, with the first results of the Presidential election putting Beji Caid Essebsi (of Nidaa Tounis) through to the second round of voting ahead of the incumbent President Moncef Marzouki, the “so-called” Tunisian revolution is weltering in the late winter sun, stained, compromised and betraying a generation of any hope in a representative political system. But for how long?

For let’s get it straight, the phenomenal rise of the party Nidaa Tounis in the last 15 months and the emergence of an obsession and fascination with the “Bajbouj” personality cult, putting Essebsi in the godfather role last played by Bourguiba (the post-colonial President) one could be mistaken for sleeping to the tune of RCD (Democratic constitutional rally – the party of the old regime) and waking up to the morning song of Nidaa Tounis. The structure, the allies, the financing, the rhetoric, the internal hierarchy, the general arrogance of a party swaggering to victory all smell so familiar. A well equipped and efficient machine, with 25 years practice of course, spun into action, out gunning even Ennadha in campaign manipulation and streaks ahead in the political currency of “professionalism.”


A young couple show ink stained finger after casting their votes at a polling station in Marsa. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

The sensationalisation of the “Islamic threat”, in both the context of terrorism and in terms of Ennadha’s previous political influence and equal incompetence, precipitated this huge swing to the right and consequently to the past. The “strategic” vote is not something Tunisians have ever had to consider before, given Ben Ali used to win his elections without any coherent opposition even campaigning. Politics was a game then and still is, with voting for Nidaa Tounis in the legislative elections seen as a way of breaking the political dominance of Ennadha, to avoid the same mistakes made in 2011 where the left’s inability to unite created a huge void filled by the resurgent Islamic party.

The “strategic” vote has achieved what it set out to do in reeling in Ennadha, though by no-means destroying them politically, but as a side-affect has further emboldened the Nidaa machine, and great swathes of the media, into thinking that they are the savor of interim Tunisian politics, that only with their wealth of experience can the country start to see some light in the cynical sky. This is the danger that the smarter strategic voters already knew, a risk they were willing to take.


A newsreader for Tunisian national TV, doing a little freelance work on the side for France 24, in a voting station in Marsa, sporting his very prominent red tie. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

It’s only in the cold light of the morning-after-the-night-before that this drunk electorate will realize that with Essebsi the most likely next President and his party as the controlling block in Parliament, they have sleep walked straight back into the all-to-familiar bureaucratic, nepotistic, corrupt system of before. Where political dynamism and initiative die in the smoke stained halls of all the ministries before they’re given chance to breathe. It’s this suffocation by the controlling class in politics that keeps the national dialogue narrow and unambitious. Bravery at the ballot box doesn’t necessarily correlate to any meaningful change. In the eyes of the majority of the electorate, those without experience don’t deserve responsibility and those that do have experience have ignored their responsibilities and proved themselves failures at the highest level, so where does that leave a population still waiting for change? There’s nothing strategic about it. For the part of the population that believed they could affect real change, their demoralization is overwhelming. Patience isn’t much of a revolutionary slogan in 2014. This period has allowed Essebsi, the 88 year old in all his desperation and arrogance, to assume the role of patron of calm and hope.


Bochra Belhaj Hamida, a newly elected member of Parliament, casting her vote for Essebsi yesterday in Marsa. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

The force of this false hope was especially evident yesterday in the northern neighborhood of Marsa, a “Bajbouj” stronghold, where young and old alike, were out in force, so proud of their support for the voice of “experience” that some were even sporting flags and and dressing in red, the color now synonymous with Nidaa Tounes and of course with appropriately emotive patriotic undertones, not lost on the clique of media advisers hanging close to the inner circle of Essebsi.


A “Bajbouj” fan casting her vote, dressing appropriately all in red. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

Some “Bajboujers” even brought their young children with them, getting the manipulation in early! Even breaking voting protocol by bringing them inside the voting offices themselves and dipping their young fingers in ink and reminding us of who they would have voted for if they could have. “Bajbouj” a little 4 year old girl told me when I asked her who she loved, drinking in the god-fatherly perception his campaign has been so successful in establishing.

Should Essebsi go on to win the second round of the Presidential elections at the end of December he would be sworn in as the second oldest incumbent President in the World, second only to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who at almost 91, is still leading his people with revolutionary rhetoric further down the path to abyss. They say in Zimbabwe that until he’s gone, hope is on stand-by.


A local resident from Marsa, sitting in front of the voting station and boycotting the election. Photo by Callum Francis Hugh, Nawaat.

Here in Tunis, it’s so sad to think that with Beji and Nidaa potentially orchestrating the political merry-go-round for the next 5 years, that people will be saying the same until he’s gone. That wasn’t part of the plan.