Tiny Tunisian community celebrates hard-fought vote HK

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong's Tunisian community, with just 20 or so members, made a little bit of history yesterday by being among the first to vote in what is being described as the North African country's first fair and free elections in decades.

Inside a tiny office-cum-polling station in Sai Ying Pun, dressed in red and white - the colours of their flag - nationals cast their hard-earned votes. 'You know they used to use the IDs of the dead people to vote [for deposed dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali],' said Mongia Magill, president of the Hong Kong election bureau. 'This is the first time we feel like we actually have a say.'

Magill was the first Tunisian to come to Hong Kong, in 1982, as a merchant banker but is now a headhunter.

It was a desire to have their voices heard that led Hong Kong's Tunisians to make a special plea to be able to vote. A limit of 50 expatriates had been set by the post-revolutionary authorities to qualify for an overseas vote before the Hong Kong community intervened.

Magill said advice from the Hong Kong group also ensured that fellow countrymen on the mainland and in Canada knew how to organise their vote. 'Through Facebook, we gave people in Canada and Beijing all the information they needed to be able to vote, to get the three observers they needed to be able to,' Magill said.

Votes can be cast until tomorrow at the Sai Ying Pun office of the honorary consul for Tunisia, Richard Wong Che-keung. But Wong is not involved in the process, as he was appointed while Ben Ali was still in power.

People connected to the previous government have been warned to stay away from the voting bureaus.

The elections are the first since protests in January ousted Ben Ali and his Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party after 23 years of dictatorial rule.

The former president and his family are said to have owned 30 to 40 per cent of the Tunisian economy.

'They say they stole relics from the museums to use in their bathrooms,' Magill said. 'I was there in February; I went on a tour of their houses. I saw a beautiful pool and a burned out Ferrari by its side.'

The Tunisian uprising against decades of corruption and abuse of power spurred change in the region, resulting in challenges to governments in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries in what has become known as the 'Arab spring'.

Voters are choosing representatives for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution and appoint a transitional government until elections for a permanent government can take place.

Interior designer Nahla Abdennadher, 24, was the first in line, her Hong Kong and Tunisian IDs ready for the observer to check.

Abdennadher took part in the early days of the revolution in Tunisia. She moved to the city two months ago with her husband.

'We used to be so scared talking about politics,' she said, 'always talking in whispers. Being out there yelling 'Out, Ben Ali, out' was so liberating.' She said people used to disappear after talking negatively about the regime.

Tunisians in Hong Kong are a tight-knit group and most came to the city for business or academia.

Overseas Tunisians have three days to vote, while voting in Tunisia takes place on Sunday.

The major parties are the Ennahdha or The Renaissance, an Islamist party, The Progressive Democratic Party and The Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties.


The number of countries where Tunisians are voting

- There are almost one million Tunisians living abroad