Mon, May 07, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Tunisia holds first local vote since Arab Spring

AP, TUNIS

Tunisians yesterday voted in their first local elections since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, a crucial step toward consolidating the country’s exceptional democracy.

The North African nation’s 5.3 million voters had more than 2,000 candidate lists to choose from in the vote for city and town councils across the country.

The councils are being given greater powers in an effort to decentralize decisionmaking and boost long-marginalized inland regions.

The elections are breaking new ground on multiple levels.

Women make up 49 percent of the candidates, in part thanks to legal measures passed in the past few years to encourage equality.

One of the leading candidates is pharmacist Souad Abderrahim, running to become the first female mayor of the capital, Tunis.

In the Mediterranean resort town of Monastir, Jewish sewing machine repairman Simon Slama is running with the Muslim party Ennahda.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the candidates are independents and many are totally new to politics.

“These elections are a historic step ... they will bring participatory democracy to a local level, where daily problems are managed and where citizens can really make their voices heard,” said the head of the EU’s observer mission, Fabio Massimo Castaldo.

Observers said the independent candidates could perform well, riding on disillusionment that the leading parties have not fulfilled the promises of the 2011 revolution, when Tunisian protesters overthrew their long-time strongman and unleashed uprisings around the Arab world.

Ennahda, considered the best-organized party, was running lists in every constituency and expected to come out with the most winners.

It was followed by the secular Nida Tounes party of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, which runs the central government in a coalition with Ennahda.

A big question was turnout. Apathy is widespread, despite anger at the country’s 15 percent unemployment and 7 percent inflation.

It is an especially big problem for Tunisia’s youth, who drove the 2011 uprising, but have not seen their opportunities improve in the years since.

The president issued a last-minute appeal to Tunisians to take advantage of their freedom to vote — exceptional in a region marked by authoritarian leaders or Libya’s violent, lawless chaos.

“We must send the world a message, to say that our choice for democracy is the best,” he said.

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