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Why Are The Parliamentary Elections in Tunisia So Contentious?

President Saied has attempted to gain support, but the opposition is boycotting, and low participation is anticipated.

 

Tunisia’s Tunis

Tunisians have begun voting in parliamentary elections, but turnout has been low due to a boycott by the opposition and a general feeling of apathy among many voters.

Saturday’s vote is the first parliamentary vote since President Kais Saied disbanded parliament last year and the first since 2019.

The opposition in Tunisia has called Saied’s actions a “coup,” but Saied says they were necessary to fight back against a “corrupt” political elite.

Ten years after the 2011 revolution that toppled the country’s longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and heralded a new era of democracy, many Tunisians are concerned that the country is on the verge of returning to authoritarianism.

A closer look at the elections and the reasons for their controversy can be found here.

What Makes This Election Cycle So Unique?

1: These are the first elections under Saied’s new constitution, which was approved in a referendum on July 25, one year to the day after he decided to remove the government and suspend a parliament that was dominated by the opposition.

2: The new constitution says that the parliament is presently not a different free power, yet heavily influenced by the president and capabilities to help his work.

3: Only individuals, not parties, can run for office under a new electoral law. Candidates are permitted to use party logos, but they cannot receive financial support from any political party, so they must fundraise on their own.

4: One-vote voting replaced proportional representation and list-based voting under the new law.

5: Candidates previously received financial support from the state in order to run campaigns; however, under the new law, campaigns are entirely self-funded. However, corruption investigations have already been initiated due to the controversy surrounding illegal sponsorships.

6: The boundaries of constituencies have been altered, decreasing the number of seats in parliament.

How have people responded to the new system?

1: It appears that many registered voters are not expected to vote, and turnout will be low despite efforts to garner support.

2: There are fewer candidates than in previous elections, and some constituencies only have one or no candidates. This is especially true in overseas constituencies that represent Tunisian citizens who live elsewhere.

3: Youth and human rights groups claim that the new system has marginalized youth and women due to the high nomination threshold and difficult funding access.

4: 12 ideological groups, including Ennahda – which recently held the biggest number of seats in parliament, are boycotting the decisions.

5: Applicants are likewise prohibited from conversing with the worldwide press during their missions.

How will the new legislature function?

1: Parliament is directly under the president’s control under the new constitution. The opposition contends that this will result in a weakened legislature that will be dominated by the president and serve to ratify his laws.

2: Although individual parliamentarians will still be able to propose new laws, it will be difficult to form alliances and blocs in order to pass new laws without political parties.

3: Al Bawsala, the watchdog for parliament, has stated that because it does not want to give parliament legitimacy, it will no longer observe its day-to-day operations.

What follows?

1: It is anticipated that the preliminary count results will not be available until Sunday, or even later. In January, the final results will be made public.

2: The finance law for 2023 will be released next week. Many Tunisians believe that it will not be enough to solve the country’s crippling financial crisis, so protests are already anticipated.

3: The already dire food shortages are expected to get worse, and the cost of living is expected to go up.

4: According to polls, many Tunisians have lost faith in Saied and other political leaders.

5: In the days leading up to January 14, the day Ben Ali was removed and fled the country, more civil unrest is anticipated.

 

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