Tunisian election, dismissed by Saied critics as charade, draws just 8.8% turnout

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Only 8.8% of Tunisian voters cast ballots in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, authorities announced, after most political parties boycotted the vote as a charade aimed at shoring up President Kais Saied’s power.

The provisional turnout figure is below November’s 9.8% inflation rate, underscoring the economic pressures that have left many Tunisians disillusioned with politics and infuriated with their leaders.

The main opposition coalition the Salvation Front said the very low turnout meant Saied had no legitimacy and should quit office, calling for “massive protests and sit-ins”.

Another major party, the Free Constitutional party led by Abir Moussi who is a supporter of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, called on President Saied to step down.

“We call to announce the vacancy in the position of the president and to call for early presidential elections … more than 90% of Tunisians rejected Saied’s plan”, Moussi said.

“Why should I vote? … I am not convinced by this election,” said Abdl Hamid Naji as he sat near a polling station on Saturday morning. “In the previous elections, I was the first to arrive… But now I’m not interested.”

The election comes 12 years to the day after vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in an act of protest that sparked the Arab Spring and brought democracy to Tunisia.

But that democratic legacy has been thrown into ever more doubt by political changes made by Saied since he shut down the previous, more powerful parliament in July 2021 and moved to rule by decree, amassing ever more power.

Saied, a former law lecturer who was a political independent when elected president in 2019, wrote a new constitution this year diluting parliament’s powers to make it subordinate to the presidency with little sway over government.

The president has presented his changes as necessary to save Tunisia from years of political paralysis and economic stagnation, and on Saturday morning he urged voters to take part in the election.

However, few Tunisians that Reuters has spoken to over recent weeks said they were interested, seeing the new parliament as irrelevant and the vote as a distraction from an economic crisis wrecking their lives.