Post record low voter turnout, Tunisian opposition calls for president to step down

The leader of Tunisia’s major opposition alliance said on Sunday (December 18) that President Kais Saied should “leave immediately.” His words came just a day after voters in the country overwhelmingly snubbed elections for a neutered parliament. As per the country’s electoral board, only 8.8 per cent of the nine-million-strong electorate had turned out for Saturday’s polls. The polls were a culmination of a power grab by Saied in the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring.

An abstention rate of more than 91 percent “shows that very, very few Tunisians support Kais Saied’s approach”, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, president of the National Salvation Front, told AFP by telephone.

He said that the result represented “great popular disavowal” of the process that began when Saied, elected in 2019, seized executive powers last year.

In July 2021, Saied sacked the government, froze parliament and surrounded it with military vehicles. This was followed by months of political deadlock and economic crisis.

Saied, a former law professor, followed up by seizing control of the judiciary and pushing through a constitution that consolidates his near-absolute power in a widely boycotted referendum in July.

Saied’s moves, a decade after ouster of dictator Ben Ali, have raised fears of a return to autocracy.

The National Salvation Front, which includes Saied’s nemesis the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, boycotted Saturday’s election, saying it was part of a “coup” against Tunisia’s democracy.

The ballot for the new 161-seat assembly followed three weeks of barely noticeable campaigning, with few posters in the streets and no serious debate among a public preoccupied with day-to-day economic survival.

Saied’s moves were initially supported by some Tunisians tired of the messy and sometimes corrupt democratic system installed after the revolution.

But almost a year and half on, the country’s economic woes have gone from bad to worse and inflation is higher than Saturday’s voter turnout.

(With inputs from agencies)

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