Challenge for Tunisian Democracy: Getting Voters to Show Up
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed. In seven constituencies, not even a single candidate bothered to run.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied. The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Islamist party Ennahdha, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
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In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50% of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats. In the seven constituencies with no candidates, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March.
Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72% of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed Arab Spring uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse. At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices. Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohamed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18% and exceeds 25% in the poorer regions of the interior of the country, while the inflation rate is 10.1%.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.
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