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In post-revolution Tunisia democracy endangered by low voter registration

Image of Tunisian people holding flag of Tunisia. [file photo]
Tunisians come together holding the Tunisian flag [File photo]

In Tunis, municipal elections are on the horizon. However, democracy is at risk.  Registration to vote is very weak and there is a clear reluctance among the many Tunisian political parties to participate.

The municipal and regional elections are the democratic exercise in post-revolution Tunisia since the last elections took place in 2010. And they are especially significant because these councils used to be appointed by the Head of State.

This time, on 17 December to be precise, things will be different. There will be votes in 350 municipalities and 24 regional councils distributed across the governorates and, in total, a competition for compete for approximately 7224 seats. The electoral commission has allocated a 68 million dinars budget.

Absence of Parties

But according to Nabil Bafoun, a member of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the process suffers from the absence of political parties and a lack of seriousness regarding the involvement of civil society in the process of voter registration.

In press statements, Bafoun has said that the number of registered voters in this election has so far reached 167,770 voters, including 30,252 updates for registrants who changed their residence addresses.

The voter registration process began on 19 June and continues till 10 August. The Electoral Commission shall announce the final list of voters after the expiry of the appeals, by 18 September.

Call for Postponement

Most of the political parties, more than 200, are not eager to hold municipal elections on time due to their inability to stand in all 384 municipalities. This has prompted some political leaders to call for the postponement of the municipal elections to the beginning of next year for various reasons.

Such reasons include trying to gain more time to organize priorities and look for candidates. Yet others site issues linked to the fear that small parties will lose out to larger ones, including “Ennahdha” and “Nidaa Tounes”.

Warnings

The Independent High Electoral Commission has postponed the election on more than one occasion already, but under different circumstances. These were primarily political and security concerns but any accompanying to find an agreed electoral law was also a factor.

Observers warn that the reluctance of the major parties to organize events and conferences in order to publicize the importance of these elections could lead to even more reluctance on the part of Tunisian voters to go to the polls.

Disappointment

Dr. Riadh Chouaibi, Secretary General of the “Al-Bina al-Watani” party, said that there are several factors for this weakness in the turnout, including the difficult economic and social situation that the country is going through.

He added in remarks to Masr Al-Arabia that this issue casts a negative shadow of frustration and disappointment on all Tunisians and makes the majority of them unwilling to participate in public affairs and thus to register in the upcoming municipal elections.

Read: Tunisia to conduct municipal elections this year

A Tunisian political analyst, Ali Mubarak, said that: “the political scene in Tunisia is misty. It is likely the unpredictability of the political environment that has negatively affected the citizens decisions to register in the upcoming municipal elections.”

He added in statements to Masr Al-Arabia that the weakness of turnout is due to the poor performance of politicians.

Bright Spots

In addition to that, the instability at the Independent High Electoral Commission itself has not helped matters. Its president and vice-presidents have resigned recently, casting doubt over the extent of the independence and neutrality of the Commission.

Mubarak also pointed out that the media plays a major role. He noted the absence of adequate media coverage of these elections and the fact that the media has focused on riduculing many politicians rather than engaging in serious discussions.

He added that despite all these problems there are bright spots that make him optimistic about the success of the municipal elections, the most important of which is the role national parties are playing. He gave the example of the “Al-Bina al-Watani” party which is keen to contribute to the success of the electoral process through launching the campaign “get a place in the first stage,” which has received unprecedented media attention and great public reactions.

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