Women and young people at the forefront as Tunisia holds its first municipal elections since the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring in 2011.
On Sunday, Tunisia held its first municipal elections since the toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, marking a milestone for the country that is viewed as the birthplace of the Arab Spring and, arguably, its only true success. The elections, which pitted the country’s political heavyweights, the Ennahda Movement and the Nidaa Tounes Party, saw 57,000 candidates, half of whom are women and young people, running in 350 municipalities, with more than 7,200 positions being contested.
The Tunisian constitution guarantees equal rights to women in politics. Furthermore, political parties are expected to have an even share of male and female candidates. In practice, however, representation of women has often lagged behind. Given the proportion of lists headed by women was 30.33% and the proportion of women to the total number of candidates was 48%, the 2018 municipal elections represent a trend in the right direction. Indeed, early results suggest that Ennahdha’s Souad Abderrahim is poised to become the first female mayor of the city of Tunis, having received 38.8% of the vote.
The heavy participation of the youth in the elections is another notable factor. Tunisians under the age of 36 represent 52% of the electorate. Many within this demographic became politically active in the Tunisian Revolution after 2011 and have sought to remain active in its aftermath.
One demographic that remains under-represented is those with special needs. Only 18 of 2,000 lists were headed by candidates with special needs. Many election pledges did not mention such people at all despite the pressing needs of many people with disabilities to participate in public life.
For many Tunisians both running for offices and voting, socio-economic concerns, the post-Revolutionary direction of Tunisia and issues surrounding corruption remain top priorities. Security issues, particularly in the light of ISIS’ emergence and the large number of Tunisians who left to join the group, are also a concern. Such issues have caused a number of activists to become disillusioned with the post-2011 process, perhaps highlighting the relatively low turnout of just 33.7% of the 5.3 million Tunisians.
Despite the low turnout, however, the elections were free of clashes, accusations of tampering or other issues that could mar the legitimacy of the vote. Early results show that Ennahda Movement has gained 27.5% of the votes while Nidaa Tounes received 22.5%.