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Voters stay away en masse in challenge to Saïed

Union strike action could strengthen opposition to regime's growing authoritarianism but outsiders steer clear

The scale of the backlash by voters, just 8.8% of whom turned out in Saturday's parliamentary elections, according to Tunisia's electoral commission, is a major blow to President Kaïs Saïed's credibility. With most of the main political parties boycotting the elections, a low turnout was highly likely. The scale of it will come as a surprise although Saïed has made no secret of his disdain for parliamentary democracy (AC Vol 63 No 25, Apathy to greet polling day).

The question is whether the apathy towards voting in sham elections for a parliament that has been stripped of its powers to draft and pass laws, appoint and scrutinise a government and president will translate into public unrest or a major political challenge to President Saïed (AC Vol 63 No 22, Unions and oppositionists warn of a social explosion).

Former President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki, and other opposition leaders, have urged Saïed to resign.

Noureddine Taboubi, General Secretary of the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, Tunisia's largest trade union federation, publicly attacked President Saïed earlier this month. Mass strikes playing out against the backdrop of the economic crisis, would hit harder than the protests and rallies led by the opposition and civil society.

Although official figures claimed a turnout of 30% at July's constitutional reform referendum, opposition and civil society groups said that that the real turnout was much closer to 10%, claims that have been given added weight after Saturday's turnout figures

The election was the first since Saïed rewrote the constitution in July, giving him sole power to form a government.

One of the main causes of frustration for opposition leaders has been what they see as equivocation from the United States and the European Union since Saïed moved to suspend parliament, sack the government and rule by decree in July 2021.

The EU declined to send an observation mission for the election, stating that it will 'not observe the election' and will comment neither on the 'process nor the results.'

However, the US State Department said that the polls 'represent an essential initial step toward restoring the country's democratic trajectory.  However, the low voter turnout reinforces the need to further expand political participation over the coming months.'

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