Tunisia set for runoffs after low turnout parliamentary elections

Only 21 candidates secured victory in the first round of votes marked by low turnout, electoral commission says.

Runoffs will be held in the vast majority of Tunisian parliamentary districts after only 21 candidates secured victory in the first round of parliamentary elections, the country’s electoral commission has said, following a controversial vote marked by a very low turnout.

Only 8.8 percent of Tunisian voters cast ballots in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, the country’s electoral commission announced, after most political parties boycotted a vote they view as a charade to shore up President Kais Saied’s power.

“The preliminary data of legislative elections show the victory of 21 candidates from the first round … the second round of these elections will include 133 districts,” Mohamed Tlili Mansri, the spokesperson of the electoral commission said on Monday.

He added that the run-off would be held on January 20.

Under the new constitution drafted by Saied and approved by a referendum last July, the new parliament will have very limited powers.

With the main parties absent, a total of 1,058 candidates – only 120 of them women – were running for 161 seats.

For 10 of those – seven in Tunisia and three decided by expatriate voters – there is just one candidate. A further seven of the seats decided by expatriate voters have no candidates running at all.

The election was part of a series of political changes made by Saied after he shut down the previous parliament last year, in a move his critics have called a coup.

But Saied says they were necessary to fight back against what he describes as a “corrupt” political elite.

Youth and human rights groups say the new system has marginalised women and youth because of the high threshold of nominations required and the difficulty in accessing funding.

Candidates are also banned from talking to the international press during their campaigns.

After the turnout figures were announced, major parties, among them the National Salvation Front, which includes the Muslim democrat Ennahdha party, and the secular Free Constitutional Party, said Saied had no legitimacy and should step down, calling for mass protests.

Reacting to the vote, the Carter Center said that the “historically low turnout” reflected “the Tunisian people’s disillusionment with the current political and economic situation” and suggested that Saied’s constitutional changes had failed to unite the country.

Many Tunisians fear the country is sliding back towards authoritarianism 10 years on from the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ushered in a period of democracy.

The final results from the count will be published in January, while the 2023 finance law will be published next week. Protests are expected, with many Tunisians feeling that it will not do enough to solve the country’s crippling financial crisis.

Food shortages, which are already bad, are expected to worsen, and the cost of living is set to increase.

Increased civil unrest is expected in the lead-up to January 14, the day Ben Ali was removed and fled the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies