Tunisia, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Tunisia opened polling stations in parliamentary elections on Sunday, with just 11% turnout in the first round last month, a result critics of the president said undercut his claims that the public Pro-cleaning argument for political change.
With parties boycotting the vote and most candidates being independents, attention is likely to be on whether there will be higher participation than in December.
“I’m not interested in elections that don’t concern me,” Nejib Sahli, 40, said as he passed a polling station in Tunisia’s Hay Ettahrir district shortly before voting began.
Inside the polling station, a Reuters reporter said no voters showed up for the 20 minutes he was there after polling stations officially opened.
President Keith Saeed has decreed a new, virtually powerless parliament as part of a restructured presidential system he has introduced after shutting down the previous parliament in 2021 and taking full control of the country.
Saeed’s critics have accused him of trying to dismantle the democracy in place after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, and they have ridiculed December’s extremely low turnout at what he sees as a lack of popular support for his reforms.
Mongi Layouni, one of only seven men sitting drinking coffee at a cafe in Ettahrir, said he might vote.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be there later,” he said. Another man sitting in the cafe, who identified himself only as Imad, said he did not believe his vote had any effect after Saeed’s political changes.
“Only the president can decide everything,” he said. “He doesn’t care about anybody, and we don’t care about him and his election.”
The president said his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of economic stagnation and political crisis, and accused his critics of treason, urging action against them.
A worsening economic crisis has led to shortages of some food and medicines and led the government to seek an international bailout, adding to widespread frustration with politics.
On Friday, Moody’s credit rating agency downgraded Tunisia’s debt rating, saying the country may default on sovereign loans.
Under the previous system, Parliament took the lead in selecting the government that formulated national policy and handled the day-to-day running of the country. The president is directly responsible only for foreign and defense affairs.
Saeed’s new rules subordinate parliament to the president, who now takes the lead in forming or dissolving the government. The rules also undercut the role of political parties, with parliamentary candidates listed only by name without reference to their party affiliation.
Since the December vote, national television has increased its focus on Sunday’s runoff vote, including through debates between the candidates. The opposition said it was part of the state’s efforts to boost turnout.
Runoff elections will be held on Sunday in 131 of the 161 constituencies, 131 of which had no candidates winning more than half of the vote in December. In several districts, only one candidate was contested and they were all elected to the new parliament.
Voting hours are from 8am to 6pm (0700 GMT-1700 GMT).
Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Toby Chopra
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