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Tunisia: Less than 10% vote to elect new parliament

December 17, 2022

Just 9% of voters turned out to elect a new parliament after most political parties boycotted the vote, labeling it a charade aimed at shoring up President Kais Saied's power.

Tunisians cast their votes at a polling station in Tunis for the parliamentary elections in Tunisia on December 17, 2022
Turnout was the lowest for any poll in Tunisia since the Arab Spring revolutionImage: Hasan Mrad/ZUMA/IMAGO

Tunisians on Saturday overwhelmingly boycotted an election for a new parliament that will have virtually no authority following a power grab by President Kais Saied.

Electoral Board President Farouk Bouasker said just 8.8% of the country's 9 million eligible voters had cast their ballots. 

The turnout compares to about 40% in the 2019 parliamentary election.

Saturday's election came after months of political turmoil and economic hardship in the North African country, the birthplace of the 2010-11 Arab Spring revolts.

"What happened today is an earthquake," said Nejib Chebbi, the leader of the opposition coalition Salvation Front. "From this moment we consider Saied an illegitimate president and demand he resign after this fiasco."

Initial results are expected by Monday.

Why did Tunisia hold fresh parliamentary elections?

The vote was part of a series of political changes made by Saied since he shut down the previous, more powerful, legislative chamber in July 2021 and moved to rule by decree.

This year, Saied wrote a new constitution that diluted the parliament's powers, making it subordinate to the presidency and with little influence over government or policy.

The constitution empowers the head of the state to appoint the prime minister and the government as well as to dismiss them without the need for parliament's approval.

According to a new electoral law, the number of seats in the legislature will be reduced from 217 to 161.

A total of 1,055 contenders, including 120 women, stood for office.

The president has presented his political changes as necessary to save Tunisia from years of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

"Let sovereignty be for the people to achieve freedom and dignity, as well as to entrench Tunisia's sovereignty so that laws, to be issued by the coming parliamentary assembly, will express our people's wishes and aspirations," Saied was cited as saying by the state news agency TAP.

Tunisia's President Kais Saied casts his ballot during parliamentary election in Tunis, Tunisia, on December 17, 2022
President Kais Saied cast his ballot at a polling station during parliamentary election in TunisImage: Tunisian Presidency via REUTERS

Opposition parties snub vote

Most political parties labeled the vote a charade aimed at shoring up Saied's authoritarian drift and boycotted the poll.

Their decision will likely lead to the next legislature being subservient to the president.

Even if they had taken part, party affiliation was not included on ballot papers next to candidate names.

"It's really a stretch to call what occurred today an election,'' said Saida Ounissi, a former member of the parliament.

Tunisians doubt reforms are meaningful

Few Tunisians asked by news agencies said they were interested in the election, seeing the new parliament as irrelevant and the vote as a distraction from an economic crisis wrecking their lives and causing food shortages.

"No one here is interested or knows about the candidates," Yassin El Ferchichi told the dpa news agency on the eve of the vote. "Can they [the candidates] change people's lives and get prices down? They are a mere decoration."

Hedia Sekhiri, a retired private sector worker, said she came out to vote to set an example for young people. "It's my duty as a citizen ... to build a better future for our country,'' Sekhiri told The Associated Press.

"People no longer have confidence in the political process and the political representatives," Malte Gaier, of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's office in Tunis, told dpa. "They don't expect any improvement from this election either."

Rising food prices increase hunger in Tunisia

Arab Spring failure lamented

Tunisia was once considered the sole democratic success story of the Arab Spring, but many people believe their country's revolution has failed.

The election took place on the 12th anniversary of the event that sparked the Arab Spring, when a Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire because of the dire economic situation under the long-time strongman rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

His act of desperation prompted protests that led to the dictator's ouster and provoked similar uprisings around the Arab world.

mm/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)