Tunisia is the only Arab country with a functioning democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring protests a decade ago. It has not had one since its president suspended it and instituted one-man rule in June 2021.
But when the names of the North African country’s newly elected members of Parliament were finally announced on Tuesday, after two rounds of voting, it did not seem like a comeback for democracy. Perhaps the most significant signaling of the election results was President Kais’s rapidly fading support.
Only 11.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the runoff on Sunday, only slightly more than the 11.2 percent in the first round — the lowest turnout in any global election in decades, according to Max Gallien, a political scientist at Britain’s Institute of Development Studies. At least two of the president’s loudest supporters lost their bids, though several others won.
“The loss of people who claim to be close to Saied is another indicator of the shallowness of the political project he is advancing: no vision, no strategy, no team,” Youssef Charif, a political analysis who heads the Columbia Global Centers of Tunis, said:
Banking on his initial widespread popularity, Mr. Saied rewrote Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring Constitution last year, giving himself sweeping authority and demoting Parliament to an advisory body, stripping much of its power. He also created a new electoral law that prohibited political parties from being involved in the election. Thus, voters could choose individual candidates instead of voting for party lists like they did in previous elections.
Parliament became a splinter group of people without any party affiliations, platforms, or agendas. However, the fact that the winners took part in the election indicated a level of support for President Trump: It suggested they were open to at least lending legitimacy to his new program. Opposition groups boycotted this election.
The results of the parliamentary elections were widely interpreted as an indication of Tunisians’ feelings about Mr. Saied’s plans as well as whether Mr. Saied is sincere about conserving Tunisian democracy, as promised. Critics and analysts argued that Mr. Saied was flat on both counts.
In some districts, there was only one candidate running, negating the need to have a runoff. Women won just 25 of the assembly’s 161 seats, according to Tunisia’s electoral authority, Comparable There were 68 people who held seats in 2014. After replacing the independent board, Mr. Saied now directs the elections authority.
The election of a new Parliament was supposed to be the next step in Mr. Saied’s plan to remake the country’s political system, one that he claims will be a truer, more direct democracy. It has allowed Mr. Saied to hold almost all of the power.
The president has not offered any solutions to Tunisia’s economic and political problems, as many had hoped after he took power. Tunisia is struggling to survive a downturn that has left its shelves empty of sugar, bottled water and families starving, and has made the government unable pay salaries.
Disenchantment with Mr. Saied’s handling of the economy appeared to be a major factor in the meager turnout in July’s constitutional referendum, where about 30 percent of voters approved the president’s new Constitution.
Mr. Saied had called on supporters to vote for the new charter, but after announcing the date of the parliamentary election — the first round was in December — Mr. Saied did little to promote the vote.
This, Mr. Cherif stated, “confirms that he sees little interest in parliamentary democracy.”
Mr. Saied is not shy about his disdain for Parliament.
“Approximately 90 percent didn’t take part in voting because the Parliament, for them, doesn’t mean anything anymore,” According to a Facebook video, he stated these words during a meeting with his prime Minister on Monday.
He was right.
Many Tunisians continue to blame the political parties who dominated Parliament over the last decade for stymying Mr. Saied’s reforms, giving him an opening to ban them from the electoral process. Anti-Saied protests remain limited.
Though reliable polling is also scarce, the president’s political opponents appear even more unpopular than he is, leaving Tunisians stuck between two unpalatable choices.
Still, growing numbers have expressed fear of Mr. Saied’s increasing authoritarianism as the president prosecutes and jails critics. Chaima Issa was interrogated by a military judge last week for critical remarks she made on Mr. Saied’s radio show. Ali Laarayedh was previously a prime minister of a major opposition party and was sentenced to prison in December.
Yet the outcry over Mr. Saied’s rollback of rights and freedoms Tunisians won after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising has remained limited — apart from members of the opposition, who used the flop of the elections to call for Mr. Saied’s resignation and early presidential elections to replace him.
“The results show that 89 percent of Tunisians have ignored this charade,” Ahmed Najib Chebbi (a veteran politician) said this at a press conference after the runoff election.