'Blank paper' phenomenon takes off in Tunisia runoff

Karem Yehia, Tunis , Monday 22 Dec 2014

Many Tunisians have shown their dissatisfaction with both candidates in Sunday's presidential runoff

A Tunisian woman casts her ballot in a polling station, in La Marsa, outskirts of Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, Dec, 21, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Many Tunisians discovered a solution to their choice between two unsatisfactory candidates in Sunday's presidential runoff.

The choice was between Nidaa Tounis candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, 88, an official from the pre-revolution regime, and interim president Moncef Marzouki, 69, who headed the Ennahda-led troika government and disappointed many after changing nothing after the 14 January revolution.

Initial results show turnout was 63 percent less than in the first round—many Tunisians chose to stay at home, while others chose to put blank papers in the ballot box.

Dr Chafik Sarsar, head of the Tunisian Independent High Electoral Commission (Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Élections – ISIE), admitted to Ahram Online that Tunisians had adopted the phenomenon of "the blank paper or the white paper."

"I expect this phenomenon to make up a high percentage during the second round of voting," Sarsar said.

The data of prominent civil society organisations that monitor elections confirmed a low turnout in the evening.

Faten El-Shaabany, the head of a polling station in a school, told Ahram Online that only around 20 percent of 4,668 registered voters had cast their ballots during the first three hours of polling.

It was remarkable that the majority of the youth decided to boycott the election, said media proprietor Wesal El-Senousy. She believes the youth are no longer convinced by the ongoing political scene.

In front of one of the polling stations, Mofida El-Hamami, 25, told Ahram Online that she and her friends had chosen to put a blank piece of paper in the box because the choice was "useless."

"How can we choose between a candidate who was part of the old regime and another one who has betrayed the revolution," she said.

However, Fatma El-Saghery, 23, believes that whoever abstained from voting and put in a blank paper does not care about the future of Tunisia, but added that she had failed to convince her friends.

"I know that there have been many fake promises before, but we must not lose hope, our voices can make a change," she said.

In the upscale Soucra district, Gawaher Sowa, 40, an employee at a private company, said that she voted because she believes security and the economy can be restored.

"At the end of the day, we won't go back to the era of tyranny, we can protect the gains of democracy," she said.

Sarsar, who was at the media headquarters of the electoral body on Sunday, told Ahram Online that a blank paper was not a cancelled one.

"Politically speaking, it is a number worth mentioning, however it is not a vote that counts," Sarsar said.

"We will announce the number of blank papers when we announce the official results, however they won't alter results as they don’t count," he added.

Anis El-Khelefy, an activist and director of the "Lekaa" Foundation for Arabic Culture, asserted that the high percentage of boycotters would affect the president's legitimacy and his relations with the people and political forces.

"A low percentage of votes implies that the next president will have a weak mandate," he added.

Political analyst Hassan El-Fatahly, head of the Parliamentary Journalists Association, described the blank paper as a "third candidate."

However, he added that at the end of the day it serves the interest of Essebsi. He also pointed out that social media pages had revealed in the past few days that many Ennahda's supporters had decided to put in a blank paper, especially because Ennahda (an ex-ally of Marzouki) are counting on a deal with Nidaa Tounis.

Ennahda's leadership decided not to support any candidates in the presidential election.

Nidaa is to form the new government, as it won 86 seats in the parliament from a total of 217 seats.


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