Magra participation in the first municipal since the revolution of 2011 in Tunisia
A man looks at a list of candidates for the municipal elections in the city of Kasserine, in Tunis, on April 23, 2018
The Tunisians abstained extensively this Sunday in the first free municipal elections in Tunisia, in a long-awaited election since the revolution of 2011 in the only country where the conquests of the Arab Spring endure.
The polling stations opened at 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT) and closed at 6:00 pm (17:00 GMT).
The participation rate only reached 33.7%, indicated the Instance in charge of elections (Isie), a setback for the political class.
The Isie indicated that 1,797,154 Tunisians voted, out of a total of 5.3 million registered voters in a country of 11.4 million inhabitants.
“The most important thing for us is that the municipal elections were held, it is a historic moment for Tunisia,” Mohamed Tlili Mansri, president of Isie, told AFP.
With respect to abstention, the official said “we will do better next time”.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed noted the high abstention and said it was “a negative sign, a strong message (…) for policy makers.”
One pollster gives the Islamist party Ennahdha slightly ahead (25%) against the presidential party Nidaa Tounès (22%), both far from the other minor formations.
It was a crucial election to consolidate the democratic process at the epicenter of the Arab Spring.
In an electoral precinct in the center of Tunis, where a fortnight of electors appeared early to vote, there was less enthusiasm and less affluence than in the legislative and presidential elections.
“It’s a right but also a duty,” Ridha Kouki, 58, told AFP before voting.
“Although there is not much hope and the projects are worthless, I will do my duty,” he added, not optimistic.
Although the country is repeatedly praised for its exemplary transition after decades of dictatorship, the population’s interest in these elections has been hampered by persistent corruption and poverty that does not subside.
“This high rate of abstention means that the parties are weak,” explained analyst Youssef Cherif. “In recent years, they abandoned themselves in tricks between politicians without a major program, and this does not interest the citizens.”
The Tunisians had already voted in parliamentary and presidential elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but municipal elections had been postponed four times due to logistical, administrative and political problems.
“For the first time the Tunisian people are called to participate in the municipal elections, this seems simple but it is very, very important,” Tunisian President Caid Essebsi said on Saturday.
The president had called for a “massive participation”.
Seven years after Ben Ali was overthrown in a revolt that generated enormous hopes throughout the country and great global expectations, many Tunisians declare themselves disappointed with rising inflation, persistent unemployment and tenacious corruption.
At the beginning of the year, the country was agitated by a wave of protests over a very austere new budget imposed by the government.
– “Exhausted, bitter and disappointed” –
A couple walks next to a man sleeping on the street in Tunisia on May 4, 2018, with lists of candidates for municipal elections in the background
The French-language newspaper La Presse said that citizens are “exhausted, bitter and disappointed”.
“This is due, among other things, to the flagrant absence, and very difficult to support, of economic and social reforms, which are always suspended, postponed or relegated,” the newspaper estimated.
But a part of the population does have expectations that their daily life will improve and that the country will be cleaner, better transported and more developed.
The municipal elections mark the first tangible step towards a decentralization, which is inscribed in the constitution and was one of the demands of the revolution.
Under the command of Ben Ali, the municipalities only managed a part of the territory and had little decision-making power, since they were subject to the goodwill of a central power that often acted in a clientelistic manner.
There were more than 57,000 candidates in competition, half of them women and young people. Of the 2,074 lists submitted, 1055 were from parties, 860 independent and 159 coalitions. In the country there are 350 municipalities.
Some 60,000 police and military agents were mobilized for the elections, at a time when the country is still in a state of emergency after a series of jihadist attacks in 2015.
After these elections, the next electoral appointment is the legislative and presidential elections in 2019.