Tunisia’s Low-Turnout Elections Just Backfired for Saied

Tunisia’s Low-Turnout Elections Just Backfired for Saied
Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups carry a sign reading “Scram” at a protest against President Kais Saied and upcoming parliamentary elections, in Tunis, Tunisia, Dec. 10, 2022 (NurPhoto photo by Yassine Mahjoub via AP).

Tunisia’s first round of legislative elections Saturday marked yet another low point in the country’s process of democratization. Amid a boycott of the poll by the country’s main political parties, only 11 percent of voters turned out—the lowest in an election since the 2011 revolution that ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The parliamentary elections were the culmination of President Kais Saied’s efforts to remake Tunisia’s democratic institutions, which began back in July 2021, when he suspended parliament, dissolved his Cabinet and announced that he would rule by decree. He subsequently oversaw the rewriting of a new constitution a year later that expanded presidential powers and removed many of the checks and balances in the previous constitution.

Saturday’s elections were meant to legitimize Saied’s efforts. Instead, according to Ahmed Nejib Chebbi—president of the National Salvation Front, a coalition of Tunisia’s main opposition parties—the low turnout indicates that Saied has lost all legitimacy and must resign.

In July 2021 and now, Saied justified the measures he took as necessary to overcome political tensions in Tunisia and to break the parliamentary deadlock that he argued hampered his ability to resolve the country’s economic woes. These include a persistently high unemployment rate, a dramatic increase in the cost of goods and services, food shortages and skyrocketing inflation levels unseen since 2011.

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