TUNIS, Tunisia — On the eighth floor of a whitewashed building in downtown Tunis, Kamel Jendoubi sits bleary-eyed at a desk drowning in papers, his day full of meetings and far from over despite the darkening sky outside his window.
Jendoubi is president of Tunisia's Independent High Election Committee (ISIE by its French initials), tasked with supervising the country's first elections since the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Scheduled for Oct. 23, they will also be the first popular elections in any country whose ruler was ousted by the Arab Spring. Unlike Libya, Tunisia has experienced relatively little violence, and unlike Egypt, the old regime has relatively little power to perpetuate itself.
But Jendoubi's task isn't easy. He's beset with a growing roster of concerns, ranging from reports of election corruption to limited resources and experience. "For me, we don't have enough election officials. … We are hearing rumors of parties and candidates giving money to voters," he says.
Jendoubi says that ISIE has received reports that political parties are giving furniture to voters, luring parents whose children are moving to new, unfurnished apartments for the beginning of the university term. Other reports describe political parties promising to buy lambs for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Despite such reports, Jendoubi says that his committee does not have sufficient evidence of such claims or enough employees to investigate further. Asked whether these reports might be attempts by competing parties to discredit their opponents, Jendoubi, tilting his head, says, "It's possible."
Anything does seem possible these days in Tunisia. The election will determine a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution for the country. Many Tunisians hope that by holding successful elections, their country can be a model for democratic transition and not only a model for revolution. The people of the region "would see that it is possible for an Arab country with limited resources to have real, free, and fair elections," says Amine Ghali, program director of Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, a Tunisian NGO. The rest of the world is watching, too; U.S. President Barack Obama told Tunisian interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi in Washington this month that "the United States has enormous stake in seeing success in Tunisia."