Tunisia's President Kais Saied urged citizens to vote on Saturday as polling booths opened for the first parliamentary election to be held under the disputed political structure he built after seizing broad powers last year.
The election for the House of Representatives, one of two chambers in the new parliamentary system, is being held under an electoral law that Mr Saied introduced by decree in September.
Major opposition political parties called for a boycott of the election and the usual campaigning around the country was missing in the lead up to the vote.
The election is "a historic moment for change and cannot be missed", Mr Saied said after casting his ballot at a school in the Ennaser district of Ariana governorate, near the capital Tunis.
"These legislative elections will block the way for those who appointed themselves as guardians of Tunisia," he told reporters.
"The next parliament should work to meet the social and economic demands," he said.
Polling booths opened at 8am and will close at 6pm except in some border cities and municipalities. Voting opened at 9am in the provinces of Kasserine, Jendouba, Medenine and Sidi Bouzid, El Kef and Siliana, and is scheduled to close at 4pm, while polling booths in Djerba, Houmt Souk, Midoun, Djerba Ajim and Zarzis will stay open until 8pm.
Tunisia's Independent High Authority for Elections, whose members were appointed by Mr Saied in May, said 270,032 of the 9,136,502 registered voters had cast their ballots by 10am.
Under the new electoral law voters are casting ballots for individual candates instead of party lists. There are a total of 1,058 candidates standing for election in 154 constituencies in the country. Tunisia also has 10 overseas districts. Seven of those 10 overseas constituencies had no candidates, so there was no voting for those seats. Elections for the second chamber, the National Council of Regions and Districts, have not been scheduled.
Mr Saied suspended the previous parliament in July last year, citing a threat to the country.
He dissolved the house earlier this year and introduced a new constitution that was passed in a referendum in June, in which only 30 per cent of voters took part.
He selected the election date to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the act of self-immolation by a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, which began nationwide protests against the autocratic regime of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ushered in a new era of democracy in Tunisia.
The vote is being held as the ailing Tunisian economy faces additional pressure from an increase in oil and grain prices as a result of the war in Ukraine. The country is experiencing shortages of basic goods such as milk, coffee and medicines, while the inflation rate has reached a 9.8 per cent and unemployment 16.8 per cent, according to the National Statistics Institute.
Fadwa Ben Arab, 52, a homemaker who voted at the L'Aouina High School in Tunis, said she was hoping that things would improve under the new political system.
“I voted today because I’m hoping something will change in our country. Nothing is going right at the moment ,” Ms Ben Arab told The National.
“Our kids are leaving the country one after the other, I hope we can fix our country and our neighbourhood through these elections,” she said.
She said that "until the last moment I did not know any of the candidates", but went through their names on the ballot paper until she recognised one and voted for them.
A middle-aged man, who asked not to be identified, said he voted without any expectations.
"I just came to vote to fulfill the last duty I have towards this country; whether things get fixed or not that's up to destiny," he said.
Ezzedine Maaoui, head of the L'Aouina High School polling station, said the early trend did not appear to bode well for the vote.
"We are just hoping that these elections take place under good circumstances and the turnout rate is respectable," said the election official.
Exit polls are expected soon after polls close at 6pm, but the vote counts are only likely to be completed between December 18 and 20.
The final results will be announced on January 19 after the conclusion of any appeals processes taken to Tunisia’s Administrative Court.