On 17 December, Tunisia held its first legislative elections since the dissolution of the legislature in July 2021. The vote took place under a new electoral system created by the president through decree laws, and which reduces the power of political parties. In response, most political parties boycotted the election. With the majority of parties absent, 1,058 candidates (of whom only 4 per cent were youth (under 35 years old) and only 11 per cent were women) were competing for 161 parliamentary seats. Turnout was at a record low of 11.2 per cent, continuing a negative trend since the remarkably high level of participation (more than 90 per cent) achieved in 2011. Only 21 candidates secured election due to the low turnout figures. A second round will be held in February in most Tunisian regions to decide the remaining seats. Opposition politicians stated the low turnout is indicative of a legitimacy deficit, and that President Saied should step down.
The electoral campaign for the 17 December elections in Tunisia began on 25 November in the midst of an ongoing crackdown on dissent. Twelve political parties (including the influential Ennahda party) have boycotted the election. President Kais Saied has been criticized by journalists and politicians for using legal proceedings to imprison politicians and journalists who expressed criticism, including through politically motivated investigations into corruption, and the use of a decree introduced in September that criminalises the spreading of “false news.”
Under the new electoral law, 1,055 candidates are running for the 161 seats in the parliament, representing constituencies in Tunisia (151) and abroad (10). Voters are preoccupied with the high cost of living and the unemployment rate (currently at 15.3 per cent). The social situation and new electoral law have had a negative impact on the political outlook, and low voter participation is expected.
On 3 October three new political parties joined the boycott of the parliamentary elections that are due to be held on 17 December. This came after 13 other political parties announced a boycott of the election in September, opposing the new electoral law imposed by President Kaïs Saïed. Anti-government protests followed later on 15 October, demanding Saïed’s resignation and accountability for the economic crisis.
President Kaïs Saïed issued a decree in September introducing a five-year prison sentence and severe fines for spreading “false information” or “rumors” online. The decree provides wide powers to Tunisian authorities that can be arbitrarily used to legitimize invasion of privacy and criminalize dissidents. Tunisia has seen a spike in prosecutions of journalists, including in military courts, since Saïed seized wide-ranging powers last year and several international non-governmental organizations have raised concerns. Reporters Without Borders urged the repeal of the decree, claiming this restricts the work of media, criminalizing practices related to freedom of opinion, expression, and publication.