Independent candidates cumulatively won more votes, and local council seats, than the two main parties in Tunisia’s first municipal elections since the country’s 2011 revolution.
Political haggling between the two parties — the moderate Islamist Ennahda and the secular Nida Tounes — will determine whether the capital city, Tunis, gets its first female mayor.
Souad Abderrahim, a pharmacist and activist close to Ennahda (Renaissance), received 21% of the votes. Her rival from Nida Tounes (Call of Tunisia), Kamel Idir, took 17%, electoral officials said late on Wednesday.
Overall results gave an array of independent candidates more than 2,300 of the approximately 7,000 municipal council seats being filled across the country. Ennahda secured 2 100 seats and Nida Tounes nearly 1 600.
Final results from the balloting that took place on Sunday won’t be known until June, after complaints of potential election irregularities are examined.
Presidential and parliamentary elections have been held in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring. The municipal elections were expected to signal the political lay of the land ahead of presidential and parliamentary contests in 2019.
However, the voting was marked by a low turnout of 35.6% and hundreds of irregularities, officials of the Independent High Electoral Authority said. The approximately 900 infractions, which included influencing voters with gifts, did not impact the election results, according to authority member Anis Jarboui.
The prosecutor’s office plans to investigate 121 of the infractions. Final election results are expected to be announced after that process is completed.
Since the revolution, Tunisia has made a rocky transition to a democratic system of government that is seen as exceptional in a region dominated by authoritarian leaders.
Joblessness is at above 15%, inflation is at nearly 8%, and trade and other deficits are chronic.
Political observers cited voter frustration with political elites, partisan squabbling and the successive governments that many feel failed to live up to the promises of the 2011 revolution as reasons for the low turnout.
Rafik Halouani of the election observation group Mourakiboun, said the lack of participation represents a “disavowal” of Tunisia’s political class for “doing nothing to redress the situation in the country.”
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