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Tunisians vote for new parliament at tough economic moment

Tunisians vote for new parliament at tough economic moment”

On Oct. 13, Kais Saied, an independent with conservative social views, will face Nabil Karoui, a media mogul who has been in detention since August accused of money laundering and tax fraud, which he denies. The electoral commission reported scattered voting infractions, though in general global observers have praised Tunisia's voting practices as free and fair.

"After the revolution, we were all optimistic and our hopes were high".

Observers of the Tunisian elections say the timid turnout on voting day could dampen the Ennahdha, the Islamist-inspired party.

That could make building a governing coalition able to command a majority in parliament a vexatious and prolonged process, despite the urgent action that agencies such as the International Monetary Fund say are needed for the economy.

If it cannot do so within two months, the president can ask another party to try.

Unemployment, 15% nationally and 30% in some cities, is higher than it was under the former autocrat, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who died last month in exile in Saudi Arabia.

With unemployment standing at about 15% nationally, and 30% in some cities, and with the government in the middle of efforts to rein in inflation that hit 7.8% a year ago, any political paralysis could be unsafe.

For many Tunisians, the chance to vote in free elections is still special.

In the statement, Ennahda pointed to "suspicious movements made by several individuals near the polling stations, on the pretext of conducting surveys, who deliberately contacted the voters before entering the polling stations, in an attempt to direct their opinions and influence their electoral preferences".

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The vote comes two weeks after the first round of a presidential election that swept aside traditional political parties in favour of independent candidates, a trend likely to be repeated in the ballot for MPs.

Two political outsiders - independent academic Kais Saied and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui - are facing off in a presidential run-off scheduled for October 13.

One of them, Imad Salhi, 28, a waiter, was concerned about the direction of Tunisian politics. Courts have rejected various appeals for his release throughout the marketing campaign election. "I am very afraid that the country will fall into the hands of populists in the next stage", he said.

If no party emerges as the clear victor on Sunday, it could complicate the process of building a coalition government.

Both Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia had earlier claimed victory in the election.

"Tunisians should be proud for their democracy but the focus should be on economic and social conditions of Tunisians", Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi told reporters after voting in Tunis.

The Sunday vote featured more than 16,000 candidates from more than 200 different parties competing to fill the 217-seat unicameral legislature, the Assembly of People's Representatives. Ennahda urged the electoral commission to investigate.

But successive coalition governments have failed to turn the economy around and stop the decline in public services.



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