The second round of the parliamentary elections in Tunisia once again left the polling stations empty this Sunday, with an abstention of almost 90%, a reflection of the discontent with the autocratic regime that President Kais Said is trying to complete after the self-coup he gave in July 2021. The voters turned their backs on the president and the Parliament of a new configuration and with much less weight that he intends to implement. Voting was held only in the 131 constituencies (out of a total of 161) that became vacant due to a lack of majority after the first round.
The president sought to complete a model of an autocratic regime after having suspended and dissolved Parliament in 2021. The opposition parties, which have boycotted the elections, have been demanding that he resign from power to find a way out of the crisis. The central electoral commission, the Instancia Superior Independiente para las Elections (ISIE), reported that the participation rate had been limited to 11.3%, just one tenth more than in the first round, held in December, according to preliminary data.
This is the lowest participation rate in 11 years of democracy in Tunisia, a country that had a 40% turnout at the polls in the legislative elections held in 2019. By leaving the polling stations almost empty again, citizens have given understand that they reject the authoritarian political regime established by President Said in the last two years.
Independent election observers, including the local Mourakiboun group, questioned official turnout figures and accused authorities in several districts of hiding data, Reuters reports. “This seriously affects the transparency of the elections and the figures provided by the authorities,” said Slim Bouzid, the head of Mourakiboun.
The president has argued that his actions are legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of corruption and economic decline at the hands of a self-serving political elite. The new Constitution that he promoted was approved in a referendum last year, but also with a low participation of 30%.
The worsening of the economic crisis, which has caused shortages of some food and medicines and has led the government to request an international bailout, has added to the widespread disillusionment with politics. “We don’t want elections. We want milk, sugar and oil,” Hasna, a woman shopping in Ettadamon on election day, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
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Moody’s, the main international credit rating agency, announced last Friday a new cut to the official note for Tunisia, to place it on the threshold of default, according to Reuters. The delay in the approval of the rescue plan for an amount of 1,900 million dollars (1,750 million euros) that the International Monetary Fund had planned to grant in December has emptied the public coffers. The European Investment Bank then had to approve a loan of 220 million euros for Tunisia, of which 150 million corresponded to urgent aid for food security.
With Parliament dissolved and closed, the political blockade has made it difficult to find an agreed solution to the crisis triggered by the repeated fiasco of the legislative ones. The Islamist Ennahda party, which was the force with the most votes in the previous legislative elections, had unsuccessfully requested the suspension of the second round of the elections. He also urged Said to resign from his position to “allow a way out” after the clear rejection suffered at the polls for his “chaotic” regime model.
“The mock legislative elections have confirmed that the said effect, that allowed him to carry out a self-coup in July 2021, has been diluted in Tunisia. Barring a miracle, the accumulation of economic, social and political crises will lead to a clash and a break with the one-man government model that (the president) is trying to impose”, argued Haizam Amirah Fernandez, senior researcher on the Mediterranean and the Arab world. of the Elcano Royal Institute, after the first round.
Said had risen to the presidency in 2019 with the votes of punishment against the establishment country politician. The Tunisian population thus showed their hopelessness and frustration at the lack of economic improvements, eight years after having overthrown the autocrat Ben Ali, recalled Amirah Fernandez in her analysis.
Several secular parties and the powerful UGTT union then lent their support to put an end to misrule, corruption and the economic crisis. Said used that political capital to concentrate power in his hands, ending the young transition. “The reality today is that the economy is going from bad to worse and despair is spreading throughout the country,” the expert from the Elcano Institute summed up.
The European Union and the United States are watching developments in Tunisia with concern. Misery has pushed thousands of people towards the exit gate of emigration. Eleven years after a young man set himself on fire in a desperate gesture against the arbitrariness of the authorities in Sidi Buzid (centre of the country), Tunisians find themselves once again plunged into political and economic uncertainty. The bonzo protest of the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi lit the flames that engulfed the dictators of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, in the frustrated Arab Spring.
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