Tunisians vote for new local councils in disputed elections

About 11 per cent of Tunisians participated in last year's parliamentary elections

A voter shows her ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station during the 2023 local elections in Ariana province. AFP
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Tunisians head to the polls on Sunday in elections that will decide the composition of the House of Regions and Districts, the second chamber of the country’s legislature.

The legislative body election is part of a disputed political structure introduced under a new constitution from President Kais Saied in 2022.

A total of 6,177 candidates are running for seats over 2,155 electoral districts with more than nine million voters eligible to vote.

According to Tunisia's High Elections Instance ISIE, the majority of candidates are men while women represent 13.4 per cent of candidates.

About 280 local councils will be voted on and formulated following Sunday's elections.

Each of these councils will have seven members.

The local councils form the House of Regions and Districts, the second chamber of Tunisia's parliament as part of its new parliamentary system.

This second parliamentary chamber will have 79 MPs which will be voted on by the representatives elected in local councils on Sunday.

These MPs will change every three months through the same process.

The elected local councils will be in charge of setting development plans for their respective constituencies, which would be later taken to the country's parliament.

Due to the lack of clarity – as well as the complicated electoral process – surrounding the new parliamentary body and its function, observers fear a lower participation rate than those recorded in last year’s House of Representatives elections, where only 11.2 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot, the worst rate recorded since 2011.

Opposition parties are boycotting the vote, saying it would only cement Mr Saied’s rule under the revamped political system he introduced after dismissing the government in July 2021 and dissolving parliament months later.

Lingering hope for change

Many Tunisians have said they were either uninterested and unfamiliar with the process or were voting in the hope it would lead to change.

The growing political apathy in Tunisia has been aggravated by a continuing economic crisis and shortages of basic goods, especially food and petrol.

“I knew that there was some sort of elections taking place, but I do not bother or pay attention any more,” Sana, 28, from Soukra, Ariana governorate, told The National.

“I know that giving my voice is important but no one [candidate] is convincing or showing leadership traits for me to say that this person is worth it,” she added.

Sana, who is a teacher, said that the lack of clarity and absence of political will among people who have been in power over the past few years turned her into “carelessness mode”.

“They [politicians] say that they want to eradicate corruption and make our lives better but they never actually tell us how they will do that,” she said.

“As a citizen, I want something clear.”

At the Rue de Marseil primary school voting centre, turnout has been limited to less than twenty people every hour.

Tunisians at the ballot box said they have hope for change.

“The Tunisian citizen has lost hope but we cannot all lose hope if we want our country to progress,” Mohsen Ezzine, 55, told The National.

Mr Ezzine said that he has been following the continuing political process and understands what these elections would lead to.

“I would not give my voice randomly, if I did not know the candidate I would not have voted,” he said.

For Boujemaa Mouelhi, 65, participating in elections is a national duty that should not be taken lightly.

“Elections are a national duty and it is important to vote for the candidate that will represent us citizens,” Mr Mouelhi said after casting his ballot.

Mr Mouelhi said that he is hopeful that these local elections would solve local problems such as deteriorating infrastructure.

“We need to have faith in the process, we have nothing to lose,” he added.

“The path that we are taking is good and our president is doing what is right for us.”

Updated: December 24, 2023, 2:00 PM