An Open Letter to Moderate and Liberal Tunisian Parties
By Jen Krimm
Although Ennahda and some of its strategies during the election were controversial, I think there is much that moderate and liberal parties can learn from their campaign. As a former senior campaign and official staffer in the US Congress, I wanted to point out a few things I think Ennahda did well.
Every party in this election was pro-revolution and anti-Ben Ali. That is great. But what else does your party believe?
All the moderate and liberal parties blended together: middle-aged, male, elite, former opposition figures spouting the same rhetoric about democracy, human rights, and equality. When voters thought of Ennahda many words came to mind, including “Islamist, religion, controversy” etc. Yes, some of these associations are negative, but they are specific and unique.
Being against Ben Ali is not enough anymore. Be specific and choose a brand. With 100+ Tunisian political parties with similar names, each party needs to stand out somehow. Choose something specific you want voters to associate with the party: education, equality in inheritance laws, anti-corruption… it can be any issue/image, but it must be specific and the party must be dedicated to communicating it.
Some of Ennahda’s press coverage was negative, but at least they got press. Voters cannot vote for you if they do not know who you are.
Ennahda—especially with their controversy and Islamist brand—generated a lot of domestic and international media. But they also ran a well oiled communications machine: professional press releases, statements, experienced spokespeople who knew issue positions, multiple languages, and were always accessible.
Help the press. Spoon-feed media what you want them to know about your candidate/party. If you provide journalists with information to help them write their stories, there is a higher chance you will get the story you want.
Not only did Ennahda speak to voters well, but voters in the interior of the country related to Ennahda candidates.
Show voters that even though you might not fully understand all their issues, you are willing to try. Highlight what you have in common and talk to voters, not at or above them. Yes, parties need to focus their energy and resources on places they can win, but the party must still be accessible to everyone. Some liberal and moderate parties did not (literally) speak the same language as the interior of the country.
And my last word of advice which brings it all together:
Ennahda mobilized youth and spoke to the interior of the country where the revolution started, utilized the press, understood and explained the new electoral system, communicated their message/brand, and stood out from all the other parties.
Before the revolution, politics in Tunisia were non-existent, and everyone was afraid of speaking out against Ben Ali. But those who did speak out were immediately popular leaders in Tunisian politics. Not anymore. The revolution changed Tunisia. The politics must change too.
NOTE FROM AUTHOR: After the election, many liberal/moderate parties have been seeking to improve their results for the next election. This piece is not advocating for any party/political view and is not an analysis of the reasons Ennahda took the most seats in the National Constituent Assembly. It simply points out a few strategies Ennahda used in the election that other parties did not (but could in the future).