Aidi calls Tunisian campaign climate poisonous

“A lot of suspicions weigh on the campaign as people in the government use state resources for their campaigns and commit financial means that are beyond the legal limits,” says Presidential candidate Said Aidi.
Saturday 14/09/2019
High-stakes election. Secularist presidential candidate Said Aidi. (Courtesy of Said Aidi)
High-stakes election. Secularist presidential candidate Said Aidi. (Courtesy of Said Aidi)

Secularist candidate Said Aidi said the elections are the best opportunity for Tunisians to put the country on a track towards a stable democracy that brings strong growth and social inclusiveness.

However, that prospect could be spoiled by the rise of populism because of broken promises after nine years of Islamist coalitions with secularists, he said.

Aidi, 58, said the headwind of populism is casting a pall over the conclusion of the current elections.

Populist candidates raised the issue of natural resources claiming foreign powers were siphoning off the country’s wealth. They also advocated for a stronger influence of religion in state affairs and laws.

“The rise of populism in Tunisia and elsewhere came from the crisis of the political class. That is why I say we must go to the moralisation of politics,” Aidi said.

Aidi said: “The use of the argument of national resources by the populists aims at causing a break with our traditional allies.”

He rejected any potential alliance or entente with the Islamists, saying: “I chair a party, Bani Watani, whose political charter makes it clear to separate the religion from politics.”

Aidi and other candidates in the modernist camp have faced persistent calls for a “useful vote” strategy in which some hopefuls would withdraw from the race in favour of a potential strong front-runner to avoid the risk of all modernist candidates losing in the first round of the vote.

“The calls for a useful vote are aimed at the modification of the voter mood. I say the issue is not the useful vote, which I call a ‘futile vote.’ The real stake in this stage of the presidential elections is the parliamentary elections,” Aidi said.

Parliamentary polls are due October 6 with almost all candidates for president vying for the top positions to bolster the chances of their parties or allies in the legislative vote.

Aidi called the campaign climate “poisonous,” citing allegations about candidates using state resources and of collusion between the government and the judiciary to detain a leading candidate and force another to stay away from the country out of fear of being arrested.

“A lot of suspicions weigh on the campaign as people in the government use state resources for their campaigns and commit financial means that are beyond the legal limits,” he told The Arab Weekly.

He pointed to campaign posters and other advertisements to back his claims about the unfairness of the campaign.

“It suffices to count the number of posters to conclude that some candidates surpassed the legal limits of campaign financing but that did not elicit any reaction from the election watchdog [Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections] or other authorities,” Aidi said.

Aidi is a graduate of France’s Ecole Polytechnique. He worked on research and development projects in France before becoming an executive with a multinational technology company in North Africa. He later created a communication and technology start-up.

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