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Tunisian turmoil continues after runoff election

Following the record-low voter turnout –  estimated at 8.8%– in the first round of the Tunisian parliamentary election, Tunisian voters returned to the polling stations on January 29 for the runoff. With an increase in voter turnout of only 3.6%, Tunisia’s fledgling democracy will likely remain in turmoil for the foreseeable future. The political climate in Tunisia has, during the past years, been characterized by the increasingly autocratic President Kais Saied, who dissolved parliament in July 2021. Saied has been de facto ruling Tunisia per decree ever since.


No preliminary results have been announced as of yet. The 25th of July Movement, supportive of President Saied, has, however, already claimed to be the winner of the election with over 80 parliamentary seats. Furthermore, three challenges have already been filed against the preliminary results before the official announcement. Formal hearings on the challenges are set to be conducted by the Administrative Court on the 2nd and 3rd of February.


The low turnout can, at least in part, be explained by a boycott of the elections by Ennahda (Renaissance), one of Tunisia’s most popular political parties. The boycott was endorsed by several other political parties and pro-democratic activists. While Ennahda’s boycott will have significantly impacted voter turnout, the record-breaking low established in both the first round and runoff point to more deep-rooted disaffection with democracy. Many Tunisians are said to be “exhausted” with politics for its inability to deal with the economic strife the country has been facing, especially since the COVID-19-pandemic and the strict austerity measures connected to a 1.9 billion dollar loan granted by the IMF.

Conflicting interpretations

Unsurprisingly, both adversaries and supporters of the Saied-government have tried to spin the latest developments to their benefit. Many Tunisians have called for Saied to step down, claiming that the President had lost all legitimacy because of the low voter turnout. In a peculiar statement, President Saied suggested parliament has lost its function and the trust of Tunisians, given that nearly 90% of the electorate refrained from voting. Others are claiming that another political uprising is “in the making”.

Author: David Groenen