Tunisian citizens are lining up at schools around the country to vote in the country’s second free elections in history. In La Marsa, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Tunis, queues of hundreds formed within minutes of polling stations’ openings. As of 11:15 AM, Mourakiboun, an independent watchdog organization observing the elections in partnership with the National Democracy Institute, estimated the nationwide turnout between 35 and 40 percent.
Roudha Gharbi, a lawyer and mother of two, said that she came out to vote “because it is both our duty as active members of a democracy, and because we have gained this right from the revolution.” Standing outside the polling station with her purple stained figure, she expressed her happiness at seeing such a high turnout. “I was worried that the polling station would open late, but when I arrived at 7:00 am, there were already hundreds waiting in line to vote… It really pleased me to see such a turnout.”
Voting procedures, however, haven’t gone smoothly for all voters. Just as there were problems with voter lists abroad, some citizens are having trouble finding their names on the voting lists. Jaffar Chaieb and his friend Anis Hedia, both economics students, were unable to find their names registered at a polling station in Rue de Marseille, Tunis. “Last time we voted here, so we expected that our names would also be on the lists this year,” said Jaffar.
Jaffar texted the Election Commission number, a texting service that allows registered voters to find out where they are registered, but was only answered by an error message. “So it looks like were are not going to vote this year,” said Jaffar, looking defeated.
According to Salah Riahi, the president of Independent Regional Authority for Elections (French: IRIE), the texting service is down because of the high numbers of people trying to use it. He further explained that “many of the voters who are having trouble finding their names on the voting lists are actually just not registered.” In the 2011 elections, anyone presenting their national ID card at a polling station was permitted to submit a ballot. This year, however, citizens are required to register beforehand, creating confusion amongst people who voted in the country’s last elections.
Overall, few irregularities have been recorded or observed in the elections. According to Mourakiboun, only 2% of polling stations opened late. They also estimate that 92% of polling stations nationwide were fully complying with all legal requirements. There have been a few recorded instances of minor disturbances in the country’s interior causing polling stations to temporarily postpone their services.
Louis Bonhoure is a journalist with Tunisia Live and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Human Rights from Bard College, New York. Originally from France and UK he has lived in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the US. He his currently interested in Tunisia’s transitional justice and human right abuses.