Tunisians prepare to vote for new parliament in second round of elections

Only 11.22 per cent of electorate participated in first round in December

A voter casts his ballot in Kasserine, Tunisia, in December, in elections that drew a poor turnout. AFP
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Tunisia’s second round of elections for the Parliament’s House of Representatives is set to take place on Sunday, after inconclusive first-round results last month.

Tunisians in 133 constituencies will be voting in Sunday’s runoffs for representatives in the newly established two-chamber parliamentary system set up under the new constitution. The vote will be for members of the House of Representatives while a date for elections to the second chamber, the National Council of Regions and Districts, has yet to be set.

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

After a meeting between Mr Saied and the Minister of Interior, Taoufik Charfeddine, the Tunisian Presidency released a statement on its Facebook page.

“The president of the republic emphasised the need for all concerned parties to adhere to the principle of complete neutrality so that voters could freely express their will,” it said.

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

But despite his previous boycott of the constitutional referendum and his partial disapproval of the new Tunisian constitution, final round candidate Malik Kammoun, 26, said he shared Mr Saied’s vision for the country’s political system.

“After my initial boycott of the referendum, I realised that my ‘No’ would not change anything,” Mr Kammoun, candidate for the Sakiet Zit constituency of Sfax governorate, told The National.

The political science researcher believes Tunisia’s former ‘hybrid’ [semi-presidential, semi-parliamentary] political system is what led the country into political crisis — hence a system that focuses on people instead of parties is something that resonates with him.

“We need the parliament to retrieve its power and to reassume its role as a tool that enshrines local decision-making,” he said.

Tunisians vote in referendum on constitution - in pictures

Tunisia’s electoral law was changed through a decree issued by Mr Saied in September, with one major change being that voters now cast ballots for individual candidates instead of party lists.

The system has been the target of criticism in the past few months, with several political parties accusing the legislature of excluding them.

“The law did not exclude parties, some of them decided to boycott and that’s different,” Mr Kammoun said.

“All political parties today need to subject themselves to auto-critique instead of insisting on failure and playing the role of heroes."

For the young candidate, his mission is as difficult as it gets with Tunisians losing faith and trust in the nation's politicians.

“My constituency has over 140,000 residents, if I only manage to restore faith in political action in my region, I believe that the general status quo would change,” Mr Kammoun told The National.

“Our country needs reconstruction, not only reform. If the president chose to walk that way, I would walk with him. However, if he does not and continues to be as dogmatic as he is now, I will not think twice about standing up to him.”

With an economic crisis affecting the daily lives of citizens, critics doubt the election of a new parliament will bring the solutions the people hope for and the country needs.

Updated: January 27, 2023, 6:00 PM