Both sides ready for their close-up in Tunisian elections

As Tunisia's two main political parties, Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, gear up for parliamentary elections next week, they go to great length to showcase who has the most supporters.

al-monitor Supporters of Nidaa Tounes wave flags while celebrating during the party's election campaign in Tunis, Oct. 21, 2014. Tunisia will hold parliamentary elections on Oct. 26 and a presidential vote in November.  Photo by REUTERS/Anis Mili.

Topics covered

zine el abidine ben ali, tunisia, rached al-ghannouchi, nidaa tounes, ennahda

Oct 21, 2014

There's barely a week left until the parliamentary elections of Oct. 26. On the ground and on the Internet, the parties are enthusiastically brandishing their best weapons: images and shots designed to impress future voters, but also political opponents. The two political giants, Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, are showing off and competing by publishing pictures of big, enthusiastic crowds to demonstrate the size of their constituencies.

Last weekend marked the home stretch of the parliamentary election campaign, the day of electoral silence having been planned for this Saturday, Oct. 25. Each of the two major parties chose a city in which their presidents and iconic figures showed off their striking forces. Both Ennahda in Sfax, and Nidaa Tounes in Kairouan, had full houses; thousands of people were there, brandishing emblems of the two respective parties and bragging about how many votes they would get. 

“Sfax, the southern capital, the land of struggle and work, will make the revolution beat counter-revolutionary forces, just like it sealed the fate of the ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, when the city staged a mass demonstration in 2011 to reject injustice and dictatorship,” said Rached Ghannouchi in his speech on Saturday in front of thousands of people. Organizers said 15,000 people attended the rally. Ghannouchi made a show of apologizing “to the many people who could not find chairs and had to attend the event from outside the theater,” knowing that Ennahda had chosen the most important showroom in town in terms of capacity.

On the other side, in Kairouan, Beji Caid Essebsi [BCE], president of Nidaa Tounes and its presidential candidate, also attracted a large crowd. A few thousand people came to hear his speech — 7,000, according to organizers. For this event, the party of BCE did not bet on the size of the space but on the religious dimension of the city. If the place of the event was not up to the level of the one chosen by Ennahda, it seems to have been chosen for its proximity to the Uqbah Ibn Nafi grand mosque.

“As part of its electoral platform, Nidaa Tounes aims to save the region and strengthen its economy, society and culture. We also aim to establish a modern state that leaves no room for terrorism,” he said in the city where the terrorist organization Ansar Sharia held its last meeting.

In conservative Kairouan, the fourth-holiest city in the Arab-Muslim world, the Destour Party wished to overshadow its Islamist rival. A festive atmosphere and traditional music accompanied the speech of the leader of Nidaa, who concluded his speech with Quranic suras and said, “We are gathered here today in the space of Uqba Ibn Nafi. We are a Muslim people and they can never outbid this.” A few dozen kilometers away, the rival Ennahda party worked the crowd up into a frenzy and reminded Sfax, “once again, it will be decisive to win the battle against counter-revolution”

The two meetings, held simultaneously, were a hit, and they both managed to attract the attendance expected by the organizers of the two parties.Two estimates were given for the number of people present, which, however, may not be compared given the differences between the two cities in terms of population, electoral power and even the size of the space allocated for the event. Yet in parallel with the two [electoral] rallies, the war of photos was in full swing on the Web and through the media. Close-ups, photos of excited crowds brandishing emblems and slogans; all means were used to show the extent of the interest in the electoral process for the event and thus for the [political] party.

But the war of photos did not stop there. The weekend witnessed numerous meetings and other public events. In the south, Rached Ghannouchi took the opportunity to stage an electoral rally in Gabès, his hometown, but also in Gafsa, just to present the agenda of the party in both electoral districts. Ditto for Nidaa Tounes, deployed in Sfax, Zarzis, Djerba and Nabeul, etc. between Saturday and Sunday in the presence of the movement’s most prominent figures.

“They are afraid of photos. Photos show the real situation,” said Ghannouchi, addressing his political opponents, at a rally held by his party in the city of Bizerte. Referring to the controversy surrounding the use of drones to film the Ennahda rally, in particular in Sousse, he said, “The drone showed that 15,000 people attended, not 1,500 like they said.”

To help convince politicians, voters and public opinion of the “need to vote for them,” more and more photos and videos are posted on the Web. In this war of photos, some do not hesitate to use all means, which are not necessarily ethical. Photos of children waving Ennahda logos, photos of strangers at the rallies or Ennahda slogans posted in cemeteries were used by the Islamist party as a show of power. The party is stirring up emotions to persuade voters and intimidating them by twisting their arms.

This war of photos undeniably forms part of a war of information. The numbers of people present at rallies vary according to the political orientations and affiliations of media outlets. The same rally may have been attended by a few hundred, or a few thousand people, depending on the media outlet broadcasting the news. Other media will choose to air some events and exclude others, to shed light on the crowds mobilized by a specific party but neglecting those who attended the political opponent’s event.

For the last weekend before the election, thousands of supporters attended the two rallies of the two major political parties running for the parliamentary elections, Nidaa and Ennahda. In search of a lost, or conversely, newly found popularity, each electoral camp provides more close-ups and shots of its increasingly growing crowds as well as hand-picked photos to demonstrate that these crowds will vote in its favor on Oct. 26. For now, the game is not over yet, and, with one week until Election Day, anything can happen. Will the photos taken on the ground reflect the results in the polls?

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Synda Tajine