I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard the word “democracy” today. I’m in Tunis on a day that will go down in history as Tunisia’s first free elections in over 23 years. The street is lined with hundreds of people, young and old, all waiting for their turn to get inside their local voting center.
As I walk past the line, a small group of young men see my camera, smile and hold up their left index finger. The blue ink on the tip of their finger tells me they just voted. It’s hot out, most have been standing in line for hours and someone is passing out bottled water. Another person is coordinating entries for those with physical disabilities.
I'm here because Mercy Corps has helped to educate and mobilize Tunisians around these elections, and continues to support local civil society organizations that promote civic engagement and leadership.
I stop and ask a young Tunisian girl, Sarah, there with her mom, Ines, what today means to them and they respond, “a chance to make a difference, to live in peace and democracy.” Ahmed, a 32-year old Tunisian who returned home after living in the U.S. for ten years tells me, “we’ve never had a democracy, this is the first time I’ve been allowed to be part of one.” At another site, a few miles away, I meet Mohammed, a 63-year old university professor who is voting today for the first time in his life and tells me he never thought he’d live to see a democratic day.
Over and over again, I hear these same words and I slowly understand that today is not about which party is elected into power as much as it is about the people being allowed to elect their leaders fairly and openly.
Today, 6.5 million Tunisians at more than 8,000 balloting sites throughout the country are being given their shot to participate in the political system and to grasp the democracy that has long been owed to them.