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Very low vote turnout in Tunisia elections

Tunisia's main opposition coalition has called on President Kais Saied to step down following parliamentary elections that were marred by an extremely low voter turnout.

The Salvation Front opposition coalition, which includes the Ennahdha Party, made the call on Saturday, saying the minus-nine-percent electoral participation has practically left the head of state without legitimacy.

“What happened today is an earthquake,” said the Salvation Front leader Nejib Chebbi, adding “From this moment, we consider Saied an illegitimate president and demand he resign after this fiasco.”

He noted that there should be a short period of transition under a judge followed by fresh presidential elections and a national dialog.

Another major party, the Free Constitutional Party led by Abir Moussi, also called on 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.

President of Tunisia’s electoral board, Farouk Bouasker said by close of polls at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT), just 8.8 percent of the nine-million-strong electorate had cast votes, which was the lowest participation in any poll since the country’s uprising in 2011.

Opposition groups had boycotted the election, saying it was part of a “coup” by the president against the country’s democracy.

Bouasker acknowledged turnout was “modest,” but said it could be explained by “the absence of foreign financing, in contrast to previous elections.” “This was the cleanest election, with no vote-buying,” he added.

Saied, a former law professor who was a political independent when elected president in 2019, dissolved the previous parliament and started ruling by decree in July 2021, gradually amassing more and more power.

Last year, the president put a new constitution to vote that entered into force so he could overhaul the country’s electoral system as he saw fit.

Under the new electoral rules, Tunisia’s political parties can no longer run campaigns or fund candidates, and all candidates must run as individuals. The general elections, therefore, saw a total of 1,058 candidates vying for 161 seats in the parliament.

Critics say a new parliament elected under such circumstances would have virtually no authority.

The previous legislature had far-reaching powers in the mixed presidential-parliamentary system enshrined in Tunisia’s post-revolution constitution.

Saied’s opponents have also described his actions as a “coup,” saying the measures have undermined the democracy secured through a 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The Tunisian public is, meanwhile, grappling with an inflation running at around 10 percent, and frequent shortages of milk, sugar and petrol are fueling a growing wave of emigration.

The president, however, has blamed hoarders and speculators for the shortages.

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