5 things you should know about parliamentary elections in Tunisia

More than 15,000 candidates, running on more than 1,500 lists, are competing for 217 seats
Millions of Tunisians will head to the ballot box on October 6 to elect their parliamentary representatives.
A file photo taken on November 12, 2018 shows a general view of a the Tunisian parliament in the capital Tunis. – Millions of Tunisians will head to the ballot box on October 6 to elect their parliamentary representatives in key elections overshadowed by presidential polls. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Millions of Tunisians will head to the ballot box on October 6 to elect their parliamentary representatives in a key vote overshadowed by presidential polls. 

Here are five things to know about the parliamentary vote.

1. When are the parliamentary elections?

Voting will take place in a single round on Sunday October 6.  The parliamentary election will be the second since the adoption of a new constitution in 2014, and the third since the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. 

Preliminary results are expected on October 9.

2. Who is contesting in the Tunisia’s parliamentary elections?

More than 15,000 candidates, running on more than 1,500 lists, are competing for 217 seats. At least a third of the lists are independent, adding to the challenge of understanding a political landscape already fractured into a multitude of parties with few substantive differences.

The fortunes of the main party in parliament, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, have flagged of late. Its leader Rached Ghannouchi is thought to want to lead the assembly.

The Nidaa Tounes party won big in 2014 but is unlikely to repeat the performance. A big tent party founded on an anti-Islamist platform, Nidaa Tounes later allied with Ennahdha but has since splintered.

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Banners are seen on the wall ahead of the Parliamentary elections which will be held at 6 October in Tunis
TUNIS, TUNISIA – SEPTEMBER 20: Banners are seen on the wall ahead of the Parliamentary elections which will be held at 6 October in Tunis, Tunisia on September 20, 2019. Nacer Talel / Anadolu Agency

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Ex-Nidaa Tounes members have formed several new parties in recent months. 

Tahya Tounes was launched by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who was knocked out of the first round of the presidential election, while Qalb Tounes was created by jailed media magnate Nabil Karoui.

Other parties are presenting fresh faces. The Aich Tounsi movement is financed by entrepreneur Olfa Terras, who is running for Bizerte in the north.

3. What about the presidential election?

Presidential elections scheduled for November were moved forward after the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July. This places the parliamentary election between the first and second round of the presidential elections.

Campaigning for the parliamentary polls has been overshadowed by the presidential race in which mogul Karoui advanced to the second round, despite being detained in a money-laundering probe. 

He will face Kais Saied, a fiercely independent and socially conservative academic. A strong performance by Qalb Tounes in the parliamentary election could boost Karoui’s chances in the presidential run-off.

For his part, Saied said he is opposed to the party system and offered no endorsements for the parliamentary election. “There is no clear polarisation, which is accentuating the lack of enthusiasm,” said Michael Ayari, Tunisia analyst with the International Crisis Group. 

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Across the country, large numbers of billboards made available to candidates have remained blank. 

4. Who will the election winners be?

Compared to 2014, when Ennahdha and Nidaa Tounes shared power, the outcome of these elections is unpredictable, especially after the upset in the first round of the presidential poll.  

None of the candidates who have been at the forefront of the political scene in recent years advanced past the first round of that vote. The publication of opinion polls is prohibited but according to informal surveys, independent lists could lead the parliamentary poll, ahead of Karoui’s Qalb Tounes and Ennahda. 

campaign for Tunisia's legislative elections scheduled for October 6.
Supporters of an independent electoral list in Tunis 1 seen in an electoral tent set up in the street of a popular neighborhood of the capital Tunis on September 29, 2019, as they campaign for Tunisia’s legislative elections scheduled for October 6. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

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Movements like Aich Tounsi and Karama, led by the populist Islamist lawyer Seifeddine Makhlouf, could follow. The Free Destourian Party, led by the anti-Islamist lawyer Abir Moussi, will hope to improve on the four percent she won in the first round of the presidential vote.

5. What will the parliamentary elections change?

The assembly will be charged with forming a new government, which needs a majority of 109 votes. According to Ayari, given the political fragmentation “it is possible that no majority will emerge” within the time frame provided by the constitution.

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The party with the most seats has two months to form a government. Otherwise the president can nominate a prime minister, who will in turn have two months. To obtain a majority, the leading list will likely need to assemble four or five blocs. But this may prove challenging as “some of these have campaigned against each other”, said Lamine Benghazi from the political observatory Al Bawsala.

Too much political uncertainty would be detrimental to the revival of the economy — a promise made by candidates across the political spectrum as Tunisians struggle with rising prices, declining public services and unemployment of more than 15 percent.


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