TUNIS: Tunisians expressed tentative hope for the future as they lined up early Sunday to choose their first five-year parliament since they overthrew their dictator in the 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring.
The past three and a half years have been marked by political turmoil, terrorist attacks and a faltering economy which has brought disillusionment to many over the democratic process, even though Tunisia is widely seen as the country that has the best chance for democracy in the Arab world.
“We are proud to vote. It’s our duty as citizens and I am optimistic,” said Zeinab Turabi, a lawyer in the affluent Tunis neighborhood of Sukra. “If you don’t vote, you’ll get Libya,” he added, referring to the neighboring country which has been taken hostage by violent militias since the downfall of dictator Muammer Gadhafi.
At polling stations in the 27 districts across Tunisia, citizens have a bewildering array of candidates to choose from with more than 50 choices laid out on enormous ballots, though the Islamist Ennahda Party is expected to do well.
The election in this country of 11 million is for the 217 seat parliament and the largest party will get the right to form a government. Presidential elections are in November.
“I came to vote to save my country from many things, primarily terrorism, and then inflation and unemployment,” said Wafaa Masmoudi, a civil servant voting in the Tunis suburb of Carthage.
As recently as Friday, police stormed a house full of suspected militants after a 24-hour standoff, killing five women and a man, all described as “terrorists” by the government.
The Ennahda Party did well immediately after the revolution, though many criticized the Islamists’ turbulent two years in power and they later stepped aside in favor of a transition government ahead of elections.
“I don’t want the same people to stay in power, that is why I came to vote to prevent that from happening,” said Amira Medeb, a bank director who admitted she was afraid for the future.
In the lower income Tunis neighborhood of Yasmina, voters chose to separate themselves into male and female lines while waiting to vote, officials said.
“We wanted this separation because it is not logical for men and women to be mixed in the same line, we must respect each other,” said Mohammed Saleh Mellouli, a middle-aged man with a beard. He cited the economy as his main concern in the election.
Despite Sunday being a weekend in Tunisia, people woke early to vote, citing the five hour long lines in 2011.
“The last three years have been really bad, but we’re hoping it will get better,” said Mehdi Omar, a taxi driver, his finger stained blue from the indelible ink used to mark voters.