Tunisians prepare to vote for a new parliament on revolution anniversary

Election is first step towards establishing revamped political system laid out under country's new constitution

A billboard in Tunis encourages people to vote in the Tunisian national election scheduled for December 17. AFP
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Tunisians will head to the polls on Saturday for the second time this year to vote under a new electoral system for a new parliament, set up under a new constitution.

Since the suspension — and later the dissolution — of the previous parliament, Tunisian President Kais Saied has ruled the country through executive decrees as part of what he has called a state of exceptional measures.

Mr Saied said Saturday’s election for the House of Representatives — one of two chambers set up under the new parliamentary system — will allow for the improved devolution of powers as well as better representation. Elections for the second chamber, the National Council of Regions and Districts, have not been scheduled.

Many of Tunisia's established parties have called for a boycott of Saturday's election, saying the political system, which was established under a constitution passed in a referendum with only 30 per cent turnout, was undemocratic.

The electoral law was changed through a decree issued by Mr Saied in September, with one major change being that voters will now cast ballots for individuals instead of party lists.

Mr Saied selected the election date to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the act of self-immolation by a street vendor that led to nationwide protests against the autocratic regime of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

But Tunisia's economic troubles have tarnished the 11 years since the popular uprising.

The most recent economic crisis has caused shortages of basic goods such as milk, coffee and medicine, while the inflation rate has reached a 9.8 per cent and unemployment 16.8 per cent, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Some Tunisians are not convinced the latest political changes will be beneficial.

“I am not voting on Saturday because I simply do not want to associate myself with such a process,” said Meher Khelifi, 30, part of a group of young people sitting in a cafe in the L’Aouina suburb of the capital Tunis.

“Most of the candidates are unknown individuals and political outsiders, some of them have corruption allegations surrounding their names.

“I cannot take part in something where I do not believe in its results.”

Intissar Gassara, another member of the group, said: “In my constituency, there’s only one candidate and that candidate is a known black market smuggler — how did he suddenly become eligible to run?”

The candidate is certain to win, she said, as he is the only person standing in the constituency.

Political commentators as well as ordinary citizens have observed that the new electoral system not only gives the advantage to candidates with money and fame, but has also severely reduced the number of people running.

Tunisia’s electoral commission was forced to cancel elections in seven oversees constituencies because there were no candidates.

Posters of candidates running in Saturday's parliamentary elections from the Ain Drahem-Tabarka constituency in north-west Tunisia. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National.

But Ahmed Sassi, a 37-year-old primary schoolteacher who is standing for election in Tunis's El Kabaria district, believes “the solution is in our hands” — the motto of his campaign.

His campaign page on Facebook said that young people make up 60 per cent of El Kabaria's population of 100,000, and they do not have any prospects for a better future.

“Our bet today is to end the state’s austerity measures that mostly target popular neighbourhoods and continue to marginalise it,” Mr Sassi said in a campaign advertisement.

He wants the state to provide services such as basic health care, public transport and well-equipped schools.

“These are not promises but are rather the path that I hope we get to work on fulfilling together,” he says in a video posted on his page.

Kmar Ezzmen Khaldi, a law student, is not convinced.

“The elections are only taking place to give the illusion that we still have functioning institutions in this country,” she said.

Polling booths across the country will open at 8am and close at 6pm, with more than nine million registered voters eligible to take part.

Exit polls are expected by 6pm, but the preliminary results are only likely to be released 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.

Updated: December 16, 2022, 6:31 PM