- The economy, health, and corruption are major issues in Sunday's elections.
- More than 1,500 parties and independent lists nationwide hope to win one of 217 seats in parliament.
- A recent poll shows that more than 80 percent of Tunisians have little or no confidence in political parties.
Tunisians will go to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament. All indications are that voters will deliver a slap in the face to the existing parties. The expected punitive vote would probably favor younger candidates. Sunday’s elections will be the second since the new Constitution was ratified in 2014. Despite the democratic process, Tunisians live in difficult economic and social conditions. Observers expect that there will be a major shift in voter choices.
An opportunity for new faces?
Last-minute campaigning is in full swing in places like Dandan, a residential area west of Tunis. A group of young men and women carry a number of clips in their hands that detail their electoral program, which they distribute to pedestrians. They carry with them a small music device, which young people turned off to save the battery.
Amanullah al-Jawhari, an engineer in his early 30s, argues that if there were enough independent deputies in the newly elected parliament, politics could be made on an objective basis. There is fierce competition throughout the country, however. Within his constituency alone, more than fifty lists are competing, of which seven are chosen and brought to parliament. More than 1,500 parties and independent lists nationwide hope to win one of 217 seats in parliament.
Almost no confidence in parties
The sober young man is well acquainted with the political scene in Tunisia. His father, formerly a leading member of Ennahda, died in 1995 under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a prison under mysterious circumstances. Amanullah al-Jawhari himself was a member of the Ennahda Shura Council even after the revolution, before his resignation in 2013 and his departure from the party.
His wife is not only a member of the party so far, but also a minister and the most prominent candidate of the conservative Islamic party for the constituency abroad in France. “Some people think that parties can be reformed from within. I am not one of them,” Amanullah al-Jawhari said.
A recent poll shows that more than 80 percent of Tunisians have little or no confidence in political parties. Members of Parliament and other state institutions do not do the best. In local elections last year, independent lists often did well. Also during the first round of presidential elections in mid-September, voters retaliated against candidates from existing parties. So many new independent candidates hope to get a seat in parliament this year.
New faces challenge the system
Good chances can be counted in favor of the “Heart of Tunisia,” the party of detained presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, which was founded just a few months ago. The newcomer to the fast-paced Tunisian political scene is Aish Tounsi, a popular youth movement, originated from a non-governmental organization, and funded by Ms. Olfa Tras Ramberg. The movement is active throughout the country under the slogan “do not be afraid, we are not parties.” Most of the candidates just wanted to become deputies to gain immunity and benefit from the privileges of parliamentarians, says Slim Ben Hassan, president of “Live Tunisie,” and the leading candidate in Tunisia. His movement is an expression of “mobilizing citizens against the regime.”
But the party led by a candidate for the second round of presidential elections, Nabil Karoui, has been criticized in Tunisia against suspicions of corruption. Karoui has been in prison for several weeks on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
The economy, health, and corruption are the subjects that are constantly circulated by voters when asked about Tunisia’s most pressing problems at the moment. After eight years of political upheaval, the effect of frustration is deep in the minds of citizens, most of whom have not reaped the benefits of the revolution.
While progress has been made in democratic development, the economy remains marginalized. The Tunisian dinar has lost its value for years, foreign debt has soared, inflation has risen and the purchasing power of citizens has fallen significantly. Corruption, patronage and deep-seated bureaucracy are paralyzing the country. “The voters’ priorities are social and economic, but that’s exactly what the major parties have not wanted to absorb since 2011,” Amanullah al-Jawhari said. He expects voters to punish parties this time.