TUNIS: The fiasco in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, which was marked by a record abstention rate of more than 90% on Saturday, is a repudiation for President Kais Saied, whose opposition is calling for his resignation and who finds himself delegitimized and greatly weakened in his negotiations with the IMF with a crucial loan for a stressed economy.
“Error”, read the headline of the Maghreb newspaper on Sunday.
The leader of the main opposition coalition, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, called on the president to “leave his office immediately” after the announcement of a participation rate of only 8.8% in the first round of a vote organized to renew the parliament.
This is the worst turnout in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Zine EL Abidine Ben Ali and created the first democracy in the Arab world.
“It’s a big, popular rejection of the process” started on July 25, 2021, when Kais Saied had frozen parliament and dismissed his prime minister, seizing all powers, Nejib Chebbi said Sunday in a phone interview with AFP.
“92% have turned their backs on its illegal process, which disregards the constitution,” continued Mr Chebbi, president of the National Salvation Front (FSN), to which the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha, a pet of Mr Saied, belongs and the former majority party in parliament in the 10 years following the Tunisian revolution of 2011.
He called on the other political parties to “agree on the appointment of a high-ranking judge” capable of “supervising a new presidential election”.
After his coup and then the dissolution of parliament, condemned for months as “a coup” by the opposition, President Saied had a constitution adopted this summer by referendum which drastically reduces the powers of parliament.
He also reformed the voting system used on Saturday for the general election, banning any political affiliation for candidates, most of whom were unknown, which experts say helped lower turnout.
Most of the Tunisian parties, including Abir Moussi’s Free Destourian Party (anti-Islamist opposition) also boycotted Saturday’s election.
– “blocked situation” –
For political scientist Hamadi Redissi, the extremely low turnout in the general election is “unexpected because even the most pessimistic forecasts counted on 30%” as in the referendum on the constitution.
“It is a personal rejection for Mr Saied, who decided on his own,” added the expert interviewed by AFP, who believed “his legitimacy is in doubt”.
But according to this expert, “the situation is blocked” because “there is no legal mechanism to remove the president” in the new 2022 constitution.
The new parliament – which will only be formed after a second round at the beginning of March – does not have this power and can at best criticize the government, but only after a long and complex process.
For political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi, after the failure in the first round of parliamentary elections, Mr Saied is “more isolated from the elites, from the parties and now also from the people”.
“This rate, which has never been recorded (at such a level in an election), reflects the people’s lack of confidence. He has always benefited from the people’s support, but this participation rate will be a shock, a jolt that could make him lose the balance,” Mr. Jourchi said.
DSF has called for the mobilization of the various opposition forces, among other things through demonstrations.
But the opposition “is weak and divided” between the secular and progressive camp on the one hand, and on the other the FSN united around Ennahdha, Mr. Redissi stressed.
There is “little chance that it will unite as long as we have not resolved the Ennahdha issue”, he said of this formation, like a good part of Tunisians who supported the beginning of Mr. Saied’s coup, blamed the economic and social. failures in the past decade.
The population is very concerned about the continued deterioration of its conditions: galloping inflation, very high unemployment and a poverty rate that affects 4 million of the 12 million Tunisians.
The DSF did not make a mistake by also qualifying as “disavowal” – international this time – the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) postponement until the beginning of January at the earliest of a final agreement on a new loan of two billion dollars, requested by Tunisia and which should have been given on Monday.