Tunisia votes in first free municipal elections

Tunisia votes in first free municipal elections
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640px-Theatre_Municipal_de_Tunis

Tunisians head to the polls on Sunday for the first free municipal elections since the 2011 revolution, seen as another milestone on the road to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Yet while the North African country has been lauded for its transition from decades of dictatorship, interest in the poll remains muted as struggles with corruption and poverty continue.

Tunisians have voted in parliamentary and presidential elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but municipal polls have been delayed four times due to logistic, administrative and political deadlocks.

“This Sunday will not be like other days. For the first time the Tunisian people are called to participate in municipal elections, something that seems simple but it is very important,” Tunisian President Caid Essebsi said on Saturday.

He has called for a “massive turnout”, but observers expect a low attendance.

Seven years after the ouster of Ben Ali sparked hope across the country, Tunisians say they are now disillusioned with rising inflation, persistent unemployment and corruption.

The country was hit by a wave of protest at the start of the year over a new austerity budget introduced by the government.

“These municipal elections won’t change anything for us. We will always be on the same cart without wheels or a horse,” 34-year-old Hilma, a housewife, told AFP.

French-language daily La Presse wrote that voters are “battered, bitter and disillusioned… due to the blatant and heavily felt absence of economic and social reforms”.

The municipal elections, enshrined in the new constitution and one of the demands of the revolution, mark the first tangible step of decentralisation since the end of Ben Ali’s rule.

Experts predict Tunisia’s two political heavyweights — the Islamist Ennahda movement and the secular Nidaa Tounes party — will come out on top in nearly every district.

But there remains some hopes that the polls, the first in four years, will see a new generation elected into office.

More than 57,000 candidates, half of them women and young people, are running for office in Tunisia’s 350 municipalities.

Some 60,000 police and military personnel have been mobilised for the polls, while Tunisia remains under a state of emergency, imposed in 2015 after a string of deadly jihadist attacks.

Voting runs from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm local time (0700 – 1700 GMT) and results are expected in the coming days.

The municipal polls will be followed by legislative and presidential votes in 2019.

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