Tunisia's police, military vote for first time in decades

More than 36,000 soldiers and police officers have registered to vote in the first local elections since the Arab Spring. But some police unions have pushed back, saying security forces should remain "neutral."

Security personnel on Sunday cast votes in municipal elections for the first time since a ban on voting for members of the police and military was lifted earlier this year.

"This is a historic day," a police officer told AFP news agency after casting his vote in the capital Tunis. "For the first time we are exercising a right of citizenship."

Read more: 'We are not yet a democracy,' says Tunisia's foreign ministry

In January, parliament struck down the decades-old ban preventing members of the military and police from voting. The ban against service members came into effect shortly after independence in 1956 and was later expanded to include police and state security in the 1980s.

Electoral officials at the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) said more than 36,000 soldiers and police officers had registered to vote in local elections slated for May 6. They are the first municipal elections since popular protests overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Under new electoral regulations, security personnel are allowed to vote in municipal elections

'Leverage over politicians'

Analysts have warned that by providing members of security forces the right to vote before reforms of the sector, it could grant police unions greater influence in politics and undermine the prospect of reforms.

Read more: Seven years after Arab Spring, Tunisia's future uncertain

"While the repeal was couched in democratic terms regarding the equality of citizens, the intentions of the police unions pushing for suffrage and the likely ramifications of this decision are anything but democratic," said Sharan Grewal, a researcher at Princeton University, in an article published by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Granting the security forces the right to vote empowers the police unions, increasing their leverage over politicians and dimming any remaining hope of security sector reform."

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Conflict Zone | 21.02.2018

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'Must be neutral'

While most police unions have supported an end to the ban, a handful has pushed back, saying security forces should remain neutral and outside politics.

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Read more: Opinion: Is Tunisian democracy in danger of collapse?

"The security institution is at the disposal of the people and it must be neutral, with this vote it will not be," said Chokri Hamad, spokesman for Tunisia's National Union of Interior Security Forces.

Tunisia has been dubbed the sole democratic success story to arise from the so-called Arab Spring, a wave of anti-government protests calling for political change.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Dark silhouettes in Tunis' Souqs

From a time when ͞the walls had ears to post-revolution struggles seven years later, Tunisians are proud to have won their freedom of speech.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Café Le Parlement

"Now, at least we can speak freely," proclaim Tunisians on the streets. Cafes, such as Le Parlement in Tunis, have become a forum for discussions and debates spurred on by the revolution.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Bullet hole in Bardo

Bardo,Tunisia's National Museum, was the scene of one of the two terror attacks in 2015, which left 24 people dead and the country's crucial tourism economy in tatters.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

The scene of the attack

Twenty tourists were killed In Bardo, and another 38 in the resort town Sousse. Tunisia also has the highest number of "Islamic State" recruits, and has fought against an Islamist insurgency in the country's border regions.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Post-revolution political assassinations

The murders of secularist politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid shocked the country in 2013; Tunis routinely sees demonstrators calling for justice.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Between football and apathy

Competing football club graffiti in Tunis suburbs. Some young Tunisians have pointed at the political apathy and disengagement, claiming that society focuses more on football rivalries than post-revolution politics.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Fighting for women's rights

A landmark law, which came into effect in February, made violence against women a criminal offence. Wafa Fraouis has been involved in women's issues since she was 15-years old. She was a member of the committees drafting the post-revolution constitution, enshrining gender equality in Tunisia's future. She is now director of Beity, the only shelter for vulnerable women in Tunis.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

A tantalizing glimpse of a better life

For many Tunisians, the only option to escape creeping poverty is the dangerous journey to Europe. Over 6,000 Tunisians reached Italy's shores in 2017 alone; over a third came in the space of two months, the sharpest increase since the 2011 revolution.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Discarded and forgotten

Inside a cafe, a group of men sit around plastic tables covered with coffee cups, as heaps of discarded cigarette butts pile underneath. "This is what unemployment looks like," says one of the regulars inside. At least three visitors in the small cafe have been deported from Italy.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

Escaping from their past

Marwan, a regular at this cafe, says many Tunisians leave to escape prison sentences, provide for their families back home, or cut links with the past completely. "We departed together with five boats; three made it to Lampedusa." He spent four years in northern Italy, dealing drugs and saving enough for a house and marriage back home.

Tunisia stuck in post-revolution limbo

The final nail in the coffin

Hundreds of Tunisians who have tried to take the dangerous sea route across the Mediterranean have perished. Unmarked graves have popped up along Tunisia's coastline.

ls/rc (AFP, dpa)

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