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Special Report

Tunisia elections: ‘When you have nothing, politics is the last thing you worry about’ (1/4)

FRANCE 24 screen grab

Tunisia has won praise for its steps towards democracy, but it has struggled to revitalise the economy, lower inflation and combat unemployment. FRANCE 24’s reporters spoke to voters frustrated by the continuing crisis.

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Days ahead of the September 15 presidential election, and with parliamentary polls to follow a month later, candidates have been touring the country with promises to turn around an economy that has struggled ever since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Nationwide, unemployment is running at 15 percent, inflation is at around seven percent and the cost of living has increased by more than 30 percent since 2016.

Unemployment has pushed many young people out of the country, often through illegal migration. They include the son of Maktouf Hattay, a day labourer in the town of Bir Ali Ben Khelifa, who perished two years ago when the smuggler’s boat he was travelling on capsized in the Mediterranean.

“My son had training, he worked as a plumber, as an appliance repairman, but at the end of the day work was scarce. And on top of that he was either paid badly or not at all,” Hattay told FRANCE 24.

In the town's cafés, unemployed graduates bide their time. Some have been looking for work since the 2011 revolution. More than a third of Tunisia's 600,000 unemployed have university degrees.

“Corruption has increased a lot since the revolution, and we get nothing without giving something. That's why young people's hopes have faded since the revolution,” said philosophy graduate Ramzi, who studied to be a professor but has never taught.

>> Tunisia airs first 'great debate' ahead of presidential poll

In the capital Tunis, older workers are also suffering from the crisis. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 1,500 factories have closed their doors.

FRANCE 24 visited a factory that makes diapers, where the workers have been idle since their employer vanished three months ago. Those of them who voted in 2014 say politics is no longer a priority.

"When you end up without a salary, totally invisible, without anything, I think politics is the last thing you worry about," said factory worker Mourad.

Finding a way to drag the economy out of the doldrums is of paramount importance, says economics professor Skander Ounaies.

“If we don't solve the unemployment crisis, sooner or later we'll have a social explosion,” he told FRANCE 24. “We have to reinvest in all kinds of infrastructure. Look at the water cuts which recently happened, the electricity cuts, why does this happen? Because public investment is dead.”

Click on the player above to watch the report by Lilia Blaise, Hamdi Tlila and Fadil Aliriza.

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