Outsiders battle political elite as Tunisia votes

TUNIS (AFP) – Outsider candidates challenged Tunisia’s political elite yesterday as voters returned to the polls weeks after a presidential election that reshaped the country’s post-Arab Spring political landscape.

The ink-stained fingers once proudly displayed after the 2011 revolution were briskly wiped clean as Tunisians fed up with the status quo cast ballots for Members of Parliament (MPs) for the third time since the uprising.

The vote came after traditional political parties were eclipsed in favour of independent candidates during the first round of presidential polls last month in a trend that looked likely to continue.

Sixty-year-old voter Mohamed Daadaa said he had “no hope for a positive change” in Tunisia.

“I don’t trust anyone or any political party. Life just gets worse in this country,” he said.

A Tunisian man casts his ballot at a polling station in the capital Tunis during the third round of legislative elections since the North African country’s 2011 revolution. PHOTO: AFP

More than 15,000 candidates on 1,500 lists are contesting 217 seats in a Parliament dominated by the Ennahdha in alliance with centrist party Nidaa Tounes, which has been decimated by infighting.

Polling stations for the seven-million electorate remained open until 6pm (1700 GMT), with preliminary official results scheduled for Wednesday, although exit polls were released from late yesterday.

Surveys circulated informally due to a ban on their publication predict Ennahdha will lose ground to the new Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) party of jailed business tycoon Nabil Karoui, who has won a place in a two-way presidential runoff on October 13.

The sidelining of the ruling political class in the first round on September 15 was rooted in frustration over a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising prices.

But monitors are worried that voters yesterday found little inspiration at the ballot box.

“People no longer trust the old parties, and they don’t know the new ones, so they’re not motivated in this election,” said Ali Rekiki, who works with Tunisian electoral monitor Mourakiboun.

Karoui, a media mogul held since August on money-laundering charges, came second behind Kais Saied, an independent law professor, in the first round of presidential voting.