Tunisia Opposition Calls For President To Resign After Polls

The leader of Tunisia’s main opposition alliance said Sunday that President Kais Saied should “leave immediately”, a day after voters overwhelming snubbed elections for a neutered parliament.

The electoral board said 8.8 percent of the nine-million-strong electorate had turned out for Saturday’s polls, the 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 the result showed “great popular disavowal” of the process that began when Saied, elected in 2019, seized executive powers last year.

The president in July 2021 sacked the government, froze parliament and surrounded it with military vehicles, following months of political deadlock and economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

His moves, a decade after the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have sparked 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.

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

But the new chamber “won’t be able to appoint a government or censure it, except under draconian conditions that are almost impossible to meet,” according to political scientist Hamadi Redissi.

Candidates were required to stand as individuals, in a system that neuters political parties.

Hamza Meddeb, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the election was a “formality to complete the political system imposed by Kais Saied and concentrate power in his hands”.