In a life spanning colonial rule, war, autocracy and revolution, Tunis resident Halima never saw a reason to vote. A chance meeting in a souk earlier this month gave her one. She was introduced to Kalthoum Kannou, who has three children, a long marriage to a doctor, a 25-year career as a judge and an ambition to be the first female president of Tunisia. “I’ll go to the polling station early in the morning,” said Halima, 91, who gave only her first name, wrapped in a cloak and headscarf to ward off the chill in the open-air market. “This woman who was able to succeed at home and at work will also be able to help govern Tunisia.”
Running as an independent, Kannou is the only woman among 27 contestants in the Nov. 23 election and the first ever to seek an office higher than parliamentarian in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Political analysts see her candidacy as another milestone for the country, which has avoided the bloody turbulence that has engulfed Egypt, Libya and other Arab states.
“A female candidate who’s not just on the ballot but someone who is perceived to be a really credible candidate is hugely important,” said Chris Alexander, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina and author of “Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb.” Kannou’s run “shows how much Tunisia has developed.”