The North African country will vote on Saturday to elect a new parliament, but voters have low expectations of ending the country’s socioeconomic and political woes.
Tunis (Tunisia) - One-and-a-half-years after President Kais Saied dissolved parliament, sceptical Tunisians are heading to the polls on Saturday unsure about the new electoral law that has done away with political parties and electoral lists.
Voters will choose from among 1,055 candidates – without affiliation to any party – for 161 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house of parliament.
Despite allegations of an authoritarian style of functioning, Saied remains more popular than any other politician.
However, public enthusiasm over his decision to suspend the legislature last year has faded amid mounting frustration over political instability and a dire economic situation, highlighted by high inflation and food shortages.
Last summer, some Tunisians had high hopes after the President intervened amid demands to abandon the multi-party parliamentary system.
Apart from freezing parliament and assuming executive authority, Saied also wrote the text of the new constitution that handed broad executive powers to the President.
The new law reduces the number of members in the lower house of parliament from 217 to 161. In addition, they will be elected directly instead of through party lists. And lawmakers who “do not fulfil their roles” can be removed if 10 percent of their constituents lodge a formal request.
Several young Tunisians expressed concern over the electoral changes.
“Many constituencies have one or no candidates. In my district, I have a choice between two individuals, but I don’t know any of them. These are not the basics for an election,” says Yahia, 27, a software engineer, who gave only his first name.
He believes the new individual voting system will be “unworkable” and “much more problematic” than the previous system. “Before, parliamentarians from 3-4 party lists struggled to agree. Now, we’re going to have 161 deputies who won’t manage to agree,” he tells TRT World.
READ MORE: Hundreds of Tunisians protest against president a week before elections
Yahia sees no point in voting since Saied has established a hyper-presidential system after seizing broad powers last year. “The new parliament won’t have any actual authority, so it’s useless.”
'Impossible to choose'
Other people also appeared unclear about what to make of this election, whether to vote and who to select.
“We don’t know most of the candidates or what their backgrounds are, it’s impossible to choose,” says a 35-year-old bank employee working in the business district of Lac 2. Speaking to TRT World on the condition of anonymity, he also said he wouldn’t be voting on Saturday.
He raised serious concerns about the future parliament, which he feels will not be homogenous. “It will be a disastrous mixture of elected individuals. Most likely, there will be fresh elections again in a few months because we won’t have a clear parliamentary majority,” he adds.
Many opposition parties are boycotting the polls, including the Ennahda movement, which had a majority in the dissolved parliament, the Free Destourian Party, Heart of Tunisia, and the Democratic Current. As a result, observers expect a low voter turnout.
Opposition groups perceive Saturday’s vote as one of the steps taken by Saied to consolidate power.
Just ahead of voting, Tunisia’s Electoral Authority barred foreign journalists from interviewing candidates, arguing that by quoting specific candidates, the media put them at an advantage over others.
“With all the political infighting that we’ve lived through, the demands that were never met...honestly, I’m not sure if I should vote in these elections,” says Zeinab, 45, a telecommunication officer in a semi-public company. She also refused to give her last name.
But still, Zeinab feels that Saied could be the best bet for the country.
“I have doubts about him though I can’t see a better alternative for our country for now.”
Amer Kidimi, 42, an engineer working for an international company, says that the President’s reforms are just a facade to make Tunisia “seem” a democracy and obtain legitimacy abroad.
“The election is to say to the international community, ‘we have a parliament’,” he says.
“I don’t expect the next parliament to change anything,” Kidimi tells TRT World.