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Tunisia holds first local polls since 2011 Arab Spring

May 6, 2018

Tunisians are voting in free local polls for the first time since the Arab Spring uprising seven years ago. The president says it's a crucial step in the country's road to democracy, but observers predict a low turnout.

A Tunisian voter casts her ballot in Ben Arous, near Tunis
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Belaid

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) in Tunisia's municipal elections on Sunday.

The North African country has held parliamentary and presidential polls since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but local elections have faced repeated delays.

"For the first time the Tunisian people are called to participate in municipal elections, something that seems simple, but it is very important," Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said on the eve of the vote.

"This means that Tunisia continues establishing the democratic course."

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Fears about voter apathy

Essebsi called for a "massive turnout," but observers have said they expect voter numbers to be fairly low.

Tunisia has been lauded as the only democratic success story in the region after an uprising in 2011 that triggered the Arab Spring revolts.

However, persisting unrest, an economic slowdown, corruption and a series of militant attacks have led to growing apathy in the population of 11 million.

Read more: Tunisian FM: 'We are not yet a democracy'

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The country was rocked by violent protests against rising prices and tax hikes in January after the government introduced a new austerity budget.

"These municipal elections won't change anything for us. We will always be on the same cart without wheels or a horse," 34-year-old Hilma, a housewife, told Agence France Presse.

Some 5.3 million people are eligible to cast ballots in the vote, in which more than 57,000 candidates are running for office in 350 municipalities. 

Candidates from the two major parties, the Islamist Ennahda movement and the secular Nidaa Tounes party, are expected to win in most districts.

Polls close at 6 .p.m. local time (1700 UTC), with final results expected by May 13.

nm/jm (AFP, dpa)

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