Tunisians voted in a lacklustre election on Saturday for a parliament with virtually no power, the final pillar in President Kais Saied's political overhaul in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Opposition parties have boycotted the vote and say the poll is part of a "coup" against democracy.
Tunisians are voting to elect a new parliament on Saturday, against a backdrop of a soaring cost-of-living crisis and concerns of democratic backsliding in the North African country, the cradle of Arab Spring protests a decade ago.
Opposition parties, including the Salvation Front coalition that the popular Ennahda party is part of, are boycotting the polls because they say the vote is part of President Kais Saied's efforts to consolidate power.
The decision to boycott will likely lead to the next legislature being subservient to the president, whom critics accuse of authoritarian drift.
Analyst Hamza Meddeb said that the election was a "non-event" and predicted that few Tunisians would vote.
"This election is a formality to complete the political system imposed by Kais Saied and concentrate power in his hands," said Meddeb, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre.
Last year, after months of political deadlock and economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Saied suspended parliament and sent military vehicles to surround it in a dramatic power grab more than a decade after a popular revolution unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Saied, a former law professor, has pushed through a new constitution giving the presidency almost unrestrained powers and laying the ground for a 161-seat rubber-stamp legislature.
While Tunisians approved the constitution in a referendum in July it also changed electoral law to diminish the role of political parties.
Critics say the electoral law reforms have hit women particularly hard. Only 127 women are among the 1,055 candidates running in Saturday’s election.
Saied’s critics accuse him of endangering the democratic process. But many others believe that scrapping the party lists puts individuals ahead of political parties and will improve elected officials’ accountability.
Many are exasperated with political elites and have welcomed their increasingly autocratic president’s political reforms and see the vote for a new parliament as a chance to solve their dire economic crisis.
Tunisia is in the final stages of negotiating a €1.8 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to rescue its crisis-hit public finances.
The IMF's top committee was set to approve next week the country's fourth loan in 10 years but has postponed its decision until early January at the request of the Tunisian government.