Credit : Hammadi Lassoued. Jbal Jloud, 2019

Clearly, candidates are not rushing to participate in the country’s legislative elections, set to take place on December 17, 2022. According to the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), a total 1,058 candidates were approved for the coming elections to fill the next parliament’s 161 seats. In comparison, some 15,737 candidates were retained to fill 217 seats in the 2019 legislative elections. This means a current average of 6.5 candidates per seat versus an average of 72.5 candidates per seat in 2019. The implementation of a uninominal voting system under the new electoral law has certainly not helped to encourage candidates for the next elections. Still, the numbers are alarming.

Figures presented by the president of the ISIE during a press conference on November 3 are cause for concern; 44.4% of approved candidates are between the ages of 46-60 years old. Additionally, 936 out of the total 1,058 candidates approved by the ISIE are men and 122—just about 11.5%—are women. Equality between men and women is, in so many words, out the door. Finally, not all Tunisians will necessarily benefit from representation in parliament, as seven voting districts overseas did not nominate even a single candidate. As a result, these seven districts will not be represented in parliament. Furthermore, the number of deputy seats will go down from 161 to 154.

« This will be a first, that there are empty seats in parliament from the first day deputies take office. Under Tunisia’s electoral law, partial elections are to be held in the case of temporary or permanent vacancy in parliament during the course of the same term. But in the present case, parliament is incomplete from the get go », observes Raja Jabri, president of the association Mourakiboun which monitors elections.

In the interior of the country, there were ten districts that presented only one candidate. « These candidates will be elected to office. Unlike other observers, we weren’t surprised by these results; they were predictable », remarks Jabri.


Parliament incomplete


The political parties opposed to the July 25 process have already boycotted the elections. Which means that Kais Saied supporters automatically enjoy a better chance of winning parliamentary seats.

« Candidates’ political affiliations are not clear. Aside from the parties that have already presented their candidates, such as the People’s Movement [Echaâb], there are also activists and members of political parties who are not well known », says Bassem Maâter, president of the Tunisian Association for the Integrity and Democracy of Elections (ATIDE).

Candidates’ visibility in the media is problematic, since the spotlight will be placed on individuals, and not electoral lists as usual. Hichem Snoussi who is a member of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) expresses his concerns in this regard: « The ISIE and HAICA’s joint decision will determine the rules governing media coverage. It’s a very complicated operation but will be better elaborated », he tells Nawaat. « There are candidates who belong to political parties. We don’t know if they are going to express their political orientation before the media, or if they are just going to present their agendas independently of their political affiliations. According to what criteria do we monitor their speaking time ? » says Snoussi.


Contested electoral law


Tunisia’s electoral law was amended by a presidential decree-law which modified the voting method and reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 217 to 161. It also created the requirement for potential candidates to be endorsed by 400 voters belonging to the same district. Article 21 of the presidential decree-law provides that these endorsements display equality between men and women (200 men and 200 women) as well as youth representation (at least 25% of endorsements must be from individuals under the age of 35). « This requirement is difficult to fulfill. We knew this from the beginning; it is what has impeded potential candidates from running », Jabri notes.

President Kais Saied challenged the endorsement provision after receiving criticism for it. During a meeting with Najla Bouden on October 7, 2022, Saied lashed out against the manipulation of candidate endorsements and the infiltration of dirty money. Ever loyal to his legalistic approach, he proposed a simple amendment to the electoral law as a means of putting an end to the « dishonorable phenomenon », as indicated by an official statement from the presidential office.

Another point of contention is the division of voting districts. « Voting districts are organized according to two methods: either by residents, or by voters. The objective is to guarantee equal representation in the election of future deputies. The number of seats must be proportional to the number of residents in a given district », Jabri explains to Nawaat, adding that under the presidential decree-law, the new division of voting districts undervalues the weight of certain districts while attributing more weight to others. « The South Bizerte voting district which is represented by one deputy holds 55,000 residents. In contrast, the Ghar El Melh-El Alia-Ras El Jebel district holds 104,000 residents. This creates an imbalance in voting districts. We are concerned about national representation among deputies elected to the next parliament », she concludes.