Tunis, Tunisia– Polls have opened in Tunisia where nearly seven million voters are eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections, a legislative race expected to end with no clear winner.
Voting across the North African country began on Sunday at 8am local time (0700 GMT) in the presence of local and international observers, including regional experts and diplomats.
This is the third parliamentary vote since the toppling of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled over Tunisia for 24 years before a civilian uprising in 2011 forced him to flee. He died last month in Saudi Arabia, where he had been living with his family.
The removal of Ben Ali paved the way for a wobbly attempt at democracy. While Tunisia is often referred to as the only success story to come out of the “Arab Spring”, the elections are being held against a backdrop of spiralling food prices, inflation and more than 15 percent unemployment.
Preliminary results will be announced on October 10 and official results on November 17. The assembly will then be given two months to choose a prime minister and form a new government.
Test for established parties
More than 1,500 lists and 15,000 candidates are running for 217 seats, with both registered political parties and independents vying for control of the single chamber.
Opinion polls have been banned but results are likely to mirror last month’s presidential elections in which Tunisians voted for newcomers Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui and turned their backs on the country’s political elite.
Independents will “certainly perform wellbecause of the pushback on traditional politics,” Sarah Yerkes of Carnegie, a Washington-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
However, Yerkes said Ennahda – currently the biggest force in Tunisia’s parliament – and Nabil Karoui’s Qalb Tunis are also likely to do well “because of their grassroots support”.
One-third of the lists are independent, while the presidential outcome suggests that traditionally powerful parties like Nida Tounes straggle behind. Never before has Tunisia’s legislative outcome been so unpredictable.
Amid the uncertainty, experts agree that no single list will win the 109 seats needed to rule parliament, resulting in a coalition of blocs. This in turn could make it harder for parliament to form a government – an unnecessary hurdle in a country that is dealing with a myriad of other social issues.
“No one works for the interest of the country,” lamented a 39-year-old taxi driver who asked to remain anonymous. He was still undecided over who to vote for, admitting to having been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of campaign pamphlets in circulation. “Politicians are the worst part of Tunisia,” he said, mirroring the country’s widespread sense of disillusion.
Economy top priority
InCite Ettadhamen, where unemployment, crime and drug-use abounds, politicians wasted no time in capitalising on the people’s woes.
On one street corner young men and women clad in the red and white hues of the Al Amal party promised better education and healthcare and less unemployment.
“The most important thing is unemployment, a lot of youths with degrees but no employment,” said Yosra, who did not wish to give her full name, thrusting a campaign pamphlet into the hands of a passer-by.
But some residents remained sceptical. “People don’t have enough money to think about politics,” said Saber Werfelli, a young cafe owner. “Most people are hungry, if you give them food you keep them quiet.”
Finding a solution to unemployment, spiralling food prices and inflation will be up to the legislature and new prime minister rather than the president, whose mandate is limited to foreign affairs, defence and national security.