More Links in News & Events

Tunisia's Lone Female Presidential Candidate: 'Continue to Fight'

When student protesters took to the streets in Tunisia at the beginning of the Arab Spring, 55-year-old Kalthoum Kannou was by their side.

The outspoken judge, a longtime critic of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, penned a statement urging her colleagues not to prosecute the protestors. And when Ben Ali fled the country on Jan. 14, 2011, Kannou defied curfew to drive six hours to the capital to celebrate in front of the Ministry of the Interior.

Finally, democracy had a chance to bloom in her beloved country.

Not content to simply watch events unfold, in 2014 Kannou took the bold step of becoming the lone woman to run for president in Tunisia's first genuinely democratic presidential elections, which The Carter Center observed in November 2014.

Ambassador (Ret.) Mary Ann Peters, Carter Center chief excecutive officer, Tunisian presidential candidate Kalthoum Kannou, and former British Ambassador Audrey Glover, co-leader of the Carter Center observation mission in Tunisia, meet in Tunis on Nov. 22, 2014, the day before Tunisia's presidential election. (Photo: Carter Center/ G. Dubourthoumieu)

"I think that I have enough experience and competence and know-how to be president," she said on the eve of the election. "I am a woman who has a history of activism and militarism known to Tunisians, especially for defending the independence of the judicial system and freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Kannou gathered nearly twice the required number of signatures to earn a spot on the ballot. She maintained a strong social media presence and outfitted energetic young volunteers in yellow t-shirts emblazoned with her slogan, "Yes We Kannou."

Running as an independent with an all-volunteer staff, she made the most of what little funds she had and joked about the modesty of her donated office space - four rooms with bare, scuffed walls and cheap, plastic chairs.

She seemed to know that in a field of 27, she was an incredible long shot.

"Whether I succeed or not is not the point," she said. "The fact of having been a candidate has been beneficial to the country, because psychologically it has encouraged women to consider running for higher office."

But Kannou made it clear throughout her campaign that she considered herself a serious candidate, not just a symbolic one: "Just as men don't run only for men, women don't run only for women," she said. "I want to unify all Tunisians."

In the end, she earned less than 3 percent of the vote. But it seems unlikely that she will disappear from the public sphere.

"The message I want to send to all Tunisian women and men is to continue to fight," she said. "Not all the goals of the revolution have been accomplished yet."

Published Jan. 22, 2015.

The Carter Center has been active in Tunisia since June 2011, a few months after the ouster of President Ben Ali. In 2014, the Center observed Tunisia's legislative election, presidential election, and presidential runoff.

Related Resources

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top