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Tunisia’s quest for democracy in deadlock

Tunisian parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on December 23, 2016 [Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian parliament in session in Tunis, Tunisia [Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency]

Tunisia’s transition to democracy since 2011 has hit a “roadblock”, the chief of the country’s electoral commission said yesterday.

Chafik Sarsar criticised the delay in holding the first local elections since the uprising.

“Tunisia stood out…through its partially successful transition and it is unacceptable that this march toward democracy be cut short,” Chafik Sarsar told La Presse, a daily newspaper.

“Everything is blocked…We have missed a date with history,” he said.

Sarsar also criticised the parliament’s delay in adopting an electoral law necessary for holding the country’s first municipal and regional polls since the revolt that ousted long-time dictator Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia passed a new constitution in 2014 and held free parliamentary and presidential elections the same year. However, authorities have struggled to redress Tunisia’s economic malaise and solve youth unemployment since the 2011 revolution.

According to Sarsar, the electoral commission needed “eight months from the publication of the law” in order to organise the polls. If elections are held in 2018, they will be immediately followed by the 2019 presidential elections, Sarsar explained, and warned that holding these so close together risked “tiring out” the electorate.

Yesterday, some 40 unemployed graduates broke into local government offices in the town of Sidi Bouzid to demand authorities provide them with jobs according to an AFP correspondent.

The group had travelled from the town of Meknassi some 50 kilometres away. Security forces arrested about ten of the protesters to calm the situation.

Last year, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew after Tunisia witnessed some of its worst social unrest since the 2011 uprising. Anger had spiralled after a 28-year-old unemployed man was electrocuted to death after he climbed a power pylon while protesting in Kasserine.

The event mirrored the conditions in which a young fruit seller set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid in December 2010 to protest police harassment and the humiliation he felt after being slapped and insulted by the police.

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