Tunisia said that only 11% of the electorate voted in the second round of parliamentary elections, this Sunday (29). Critics of President Kais Saied say the high turnout reflects popular disdain for the leader and his authoritarian turn.
In March, the president announced the dissolution of Parliament. The decision marked yet another chapter in a series of anti-democratic measures that have jeopardized progress in the country’s democracy since the Arab Spring, a wave of demonstrations that began in Tunisia in 2011.
The head of the electoral commission, controlled by Saied, reported a turnout of 11.3% for this second round. During the first round, in December, turnout was 11.2%.
Independent observers, however, question these numbers and accuse authorities in many districts of withholding data used to monitor the fairness of elections. The commission denied the allegations and said polling station staff had been too busy to cooperate with election supervisors.
Around 887,000 people out of a universe of 7.8 million voters voted. The main parties boycotted the vote and the majority of seats are expected to go to independents.
“I’m not interested in elections that don’t concern me,” Nejib Sahli, 40, told Reuters as he walked past a polling station in the Hay Ettahrir district of Tunis.
Tunisia faces a scenario of economic decline. The government has cut subsidies, basic products have disappeared from the markets, and the state is seeking foreign help to avoid bankruptcy. The situation left voters disillusioned with politics.
“We don’t want elections. We want milk, sugar and cooking oil,” said Hasna, a woman shopping on Sunday in the capital’s Ettadamon district.
The newly formed parliament had its role reduced after Saied took a series of undemocratic measures to concentrate power. In December 2021, he invalidated the country’s Constitution, arguing that the current political problem stems from the 2014 Charter.
Although the new constitution was approved in a referendum last year, only 30% of voters participated. Opposition activist Chaima Issa, who has led protests against Saied and faces a military court on charges of insulting the president, described the vote as a “ghost election”.
At a polling station in the Ettadamon district, no voters turned out during the 20 minutes a Reuters journalist was there. At another polling station in the region, a voter identifying himself as Ridha said he supported Saied. “He’s a clean man fighting a corrupt system.”
In a cafe in Ettahrir, another district of the capital, only one of seven men sitting drinking coffee said he might vote. Another, who identified himself only as Imad, said he did not believe his vote mattered after Saied’s political changes.
“Only the president is deciding everything,” he said. “He doesn’t care about anybody and we don’t care about him and his elections.”
Many Tunisians appeared receptive to Saied’s 2021 takeover, after years of governing coalitions unable to revive a moribund economy, improve public services or reduce glaring inequalities.
But Saied voiced no clear economic agenda, except to protest corruption and financial speculators, whom he blamed for rising prices. On Friday (27), credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Tunisia’s debt rating, saying the country was unlikely to be able to repay loans.
Since the December vote, state television coverage has focused on the second round, which the opposition said was an effort to boost turnout. “This fall is from a great height,” said Issam Chebbi, leader of a political party. “They are hiding attendance fees.”
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