In Tunisia, the elections for a new and significantly weakened parliament got off to a slow start. A good seven percent of the more than 9.2 million voters took part in the vote by the afternoon.
"People no longer have confidence in the political process and the political representatives," says Malte Gaier, who heads the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's international office in Tunis. "They don't expect any improvement from this election either."
Tunisia's head of state Kais Saied dissolved the old parliament at the end of March in order to weaken his political opponents and expand his own power. Since the introduction of a controversial new constitution in the summer, the head of state has been able to appoint and dismiss the government and judges without the approval of parliament. The new representative body will only have a few powers.
The opposition called for a boycott
The opposition called for a boycott of the election. She accuses the President of undermining democracy. The influential Tunisian trade union federation UGTT, which has many members and has long stood by Saied, also called the parliamentary elections "not very useful".
For many Tunisians, Saied was a beacon of hope for a long time, but his popularity ratings are now falling rapidly. Many people struggle to make ends meet every day. Food has become expensive and sometimes scarce. In shops, mothers beg to be allowed to buy more than the allowed one carton of milk per person. Sugar and butter are also rare these days. More and more young Tunisians are making their way to Europe to find work and prospects there.
So far, politicians have not found any solutions to the economic turmoil and high unemployment in the country. The leadership in Tunis is currently negotiating a billion-dollar loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avert national bankruptcy. "The loan would keep the country going for the time being, but it won't get out of the debt spiral," says Gaier. "There is no politician in Tunisia who can really change the course." The parliamentary elections will not change that.
First results on Monday
The new Parliament will consist of 161 MPs. In some constituencies, however, there are no candidates, so that the parliament will not be fully occupied until further notice. The electoral commission expects the first results by Monday.
Ex-law professor Saied also changed the electoral law before the vote. Citizens could now only vote for one representative per constituency. In previous elections, parties or party blocs ran with several candidates, including women. This obligation no longer applies. According to Human Rights Watch, in the deposed parliament, 31 percent of the deputies were women due to the quota system. "The Tunisian parliament was once the model for gender equality in the region. With these new changes in the law, that could soon be history," the organization wrote in a report.
The parliamentary elections will take place on the twelfth anniversary of Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation. The greengrocer's death at the end of 2010 triggered mass protests and political upheavals in several Arab countries. Tunisia was the only country to make the transition to democracy. However, political power struggles and rampant corruption prevented lasting change.