Empty polling stations in Tunisia election deal a blow to the president’s agenda


© Reuters. A voter casts his ballot at a polling station during the second round of parliamentary elections in Tunis, Tunisia January 29, 2023. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.


By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia looks set to experience extremely low voter turnout again on Sunday as parliamentary elections close with critics of President Kais Saied saying polling stations are nearly empty. reflects the public’s dismay at his wielding of vast power.

The newly configured and much less important parliament is the central element of the political system that Saied introduced last year following a July 2021 takeover of power, giving the president near-power unencumbered.

In the first round of voting for parliament in December, only 11% of voters participated, according to official data. Early voter turnout, released by the election commission on Sunday, showed little improvement.

Polls close at 6pm (1700 GMT). Election commission figures show 7.7 percent turnout at 3 p.m., just slightly higher than the 7.2 percent registered at the same time in the poll. December.

Full-day voter turnout numbers will be available by the end of Sunday, but final results may take longer to aggregate. With most parties boycotting the vote, most seats are expected to go to independents.

“I don’t care about elections that don’t concern me,” said 40-year-old Nejib Sahli as he passed a polling station in Tunis’ Hay Ettahrir district early Sunday morning.

Independent election observers, including the local Mourakiboun group, have questioned official voter figures, accusing authorities in many counties of withholding data they rely on to monitor integrity. of the election.

The committee – which Saied took supreme power last year – has denied holding back numbers and said polling station officials were too busy to cooperate with supervisors.

Opposition groups have accused Saied of a coup for previously shutting down parliament in 2021 and say he has undermined democracy built after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution triggered the “Arab Spring” “.

Saied said his actions were both legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of corruption and economic downturn at the hands of self-interested political elites.

Although his new constitution was approved in a referendum last year, only 30% of voters participated.

Opposition activist Chaima Issa, who has led protests against Saied and faces a military court for insulting the president, has described the poll as a “ghost election”.


A Reuters journalist at a polling station in Tunis’ Ettadamon district said no voters attended during the 20 minutes he was there.

At another polling station in Ettadamon, a voter, named Ridha, said he supported Saied. “He was a clean man fighting a corrupt system,” he said.

At a cafe in Ettahrir, another district of Tunis, only Mongi Layouni, one of seven men sitting for coffee, said he could vote.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go later,” he said. Another man sitting in the cafe, calling himself only Imad, said he didn’t believe his vote mattered after Saied’s political changes.

“The president alone decides everything,” he said. “He doesn’t care about anyone and we don’t care about him or his elections.”

A deepening economic crisis, which has caused shortages of some foods and medicines and prompted the government to seek an international bailout, has added to political disillusionment around the world. widespread.

“We don’t want to vote. We want milk, sugar and cooking oil,” said Hasna, a woman shopping in Ettadamon on Sunday.

On Friday, credit rating agency Moody’s (NYSE:NYSE) downgraded Tunisia’s debt rating, saying the country was likely to default on government loans.

Since the December vote, state television has focused on the election campaign. The opposition said it was part of the state’s efforts to boost turnout.

Issam Chebbi, a political party leader, said: “This is a fall from above. They are hiding their turnout.”


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