Round two of Tunisia's elections takes off amid low-turnout concerns
The second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday come as the country grapples with an economic crisis and deep political rift.
Tunisia is set to hold today, Sunday, its second round of parliamentary elections as the country, struck with an economic crisis with heavy social impacts, is counting on a better turnout than the previous one.
Only 11.22% of eligible voters participated in the first round of the legislative elections that took place on 17 December 2022, which is considered a significantly low turnout rate.
The parliament of 161 total seats will witness 262 candidates competing over 131 of the legislature positions.
Since July of last year, Saied has taken a number of "exceptional measures", including dismissing the government, dissolving the Judicial Council, freezing the work of parliament, issuing legislations by presidential decrees, adopting a new constitution through a referendum on July 25, and bringing forward the date of the parliamentary elections to December 17 [first round].
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Saied has pushed through a new constitution giving the presidency almost unrestrained powers and laying the ground for a 161-seat legislature.
Experts anticipate another low turnout in today's round of elections as the president's main political rivals, the Ennahdha, decided to boycott the process in protest against Saied's reforms that stripped away most of the authorities from the legislative institution.
The head of Columbia Global Centers in Tunis, Youssef Cherif, considered that this parliament will have "very little legitimacy, and the president, who is all-powerful thanks to the 2022 constitution, will be able to control it as he sees fit."
In Tunisia's former constitution, the previous legislature had broad powers under the mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Candidates in this election, however, are running as individuals under a system that delegitimizes political parties, including the opposition.
Tunisian citizens have a "lack of interest" in politics, he added, referring to the economic situation of the country that is burdening Tunisians.
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Tunisia has been suffering from an economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, in addition to the political instability it has experienced since Tunisian President Kais Saied began imposing exceptional measures, which left the country battling inflation of over 10% and a recurrent lack of basic necessities, such as petrol and cooking oil.
On Saturday, Moody's announced in a statement "downgraded the Government of Tunisia's long-term foreign-currency and local-currency issuer ratings to Caa2 from Caa1 and changed the outlook to negative."
The international rating agency "has also downgraded the Central Bank of Tunisia's senior unsecured debt ratings," due to "the absence of comprehensive financing to date to meet the government's large funding needs," as the agency put it.
Last October, the IMF announced reaching a staff-level agreement with Tunisia to support its economy with a multi-billion dollar package, however, demanding deep economical reforms as a precondition for the loan.
The final agreement that was subjected to the approval of the IMF's Executive Board, which was scheduled to discuss Tunisia’s program request in December, has not yet approved the disbursement.
The staff-level agreement aims to support Tunisia's economic policies with a 48-month arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of about US$1.9 billion.
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"It's [Tunisia's] an economy that needs very deep, structural reforms, especially to improve the business environment," said the former World Bank's Ambassador to Tunisia, Jerome Vacher, last January before the IMF announced the deal with Tunis.
Cherif added that the President's hesitation to "accept the IMF's diktats," which include lifting subsidies over basic commodities and reforming public salaries, stalled the final approval of the loan.