Tunisian election turnout at lowest level in 11 years

Only 8.8 per cent of voters participated in polls for parliament's House of Representatives on Saturday

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Fewer than 10 per cent of voters took part in a Tunisian parliamentary election held on Saturday under a constitution and electoral rules drafted by President Kais Saied, prompting calls for his resignation from political parties.

Only 8.8 per cent of the more than nine million registered voters cast ballots in the election to the House of Representatives, according to the Independent High Authority for Elections.

The turnout is the lowest in any election held since a popular uprising in 2011 led to a revamp of the country's democratic system. That year, 52 per cent of voters took part, 69 per cent participated in 2014, and 41.3 per cent voted in 2019.

Opposition groups called for both the president and the electoral authority to resign after the low turnout.

They had called for a boycott of the election, accusing Mr Saied of seeking to consolidate all power in his hands after he suspended parliament in July last year then dissolved it in March.

“The curtain has been drawn on the final chapter of Kais Saied's agenda, and we believe that the participation rate in the elections did not exceed 2 per cent,” Ahmed Najib Chebbi, leader of the National Salvation Front coalition, said at a press conference on Saturday.

“Today, there is no remaining legitimacy for Kais Saied.”

Leader of the National Salvation Front, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, speaks during a press conference in Tunis, Tunisia, 15 December 2022. EPA

Abir Moussi, president of the Free Doustouri Party, called for Mr Saied to resign, the electoral commission to be suspend and its documents handed over to public prosecutors for investigation.

“The meagre participation in the election not only strips all legitimacy from the figurehead parliament, but also strips all legitimacy from the entire July 25 regime,” the Workers Party said in statement. It called the low turnout “a big slap” for Mr Saied.

The head of the electoral authority, Farouk Bouasker, said on Saturday that the higher participation in earlier elections was a result of corruption and the use of foreign funding and media exposure by political parties.

The People's Party, one of the few political players to support Mr Saied's actions since he dismissed the government and suspended parliament last year, blamed the president.

“The president's unilateral decision-making led us to these results,” Mohamed Msellini, a senior party official, told Radio Mosaique.

Amin Mahfoudh, a law professor and member of the commission Mr Saied appointed to draft the new constitution, said the poor turnout was a rejection of Mr Saied's leadership.

“The people expressed its dissatisfaction with the elections and Kais Saied's choices by boycotting these elections,” he said.

The president largely disregarded the constitution drawn up by the commission and put his own draft to referendum in July that drew a turnout of 30 per cent.

Mr Saied had not made any statement on the election turnout or appeared in public since the vote, unlike after the referendum when he mingled with people on the streets.

The US said Saturday's election was “an essential initial step towards restoring the country’s democratic trajectory”.

“However, the low voter turnout reinforces the need to further expand political participation over the coming months,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“As the electoral process continues into 2023, we reiterate the importance of adopting inclusive and transparent reforms, including empowering an elected legislature, establishing the Constitutional Court, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Tunisians.”

Elections for the National Council of Regions and Districts, a second chamber of parliament established under the new constitution, have not been scheduled.

Mr Saied's political transition comes as Tunisia's economy continues to struggle in the post-2011 era, with the war in Ukraine causing further shocks from higher food and fuel prices.

Difficult living conditions, including shortages of essential items and high unemployment has created a sense of increasing apathy towards politics among Tunisian, with many blaming the political elite that has ruled them for the past decade, including Mr Saied.

Updated: December 18, 2022, 6:31 PM