Runoffs due in most Tunisian districts in election marked by low turnout

TUNIS, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Runoffs will be held in most Tunisian regions after only 21 candidates secured victory in the first round of parliamentary elections, the electoral commission said on Monday, following the controversial vote marked by a very low turnout.

Only 11.2% of Tunisian voters cast ballots in Saturday's parliamentary elections, Farouk Bouasker, the head of the electoral commission said, after most political parties boycotted the vote as a charade to shore up President Kais Saied's power.

"The preliminary data of legislative elections show the victory of 21 candidates from the first round ... the second round of these elections will include 133 districts," Mohamed Tlili Mansri, the spokesperson of electoral commission said.

In his first comments since Saturday's vote, Saied rejected complaints about the low turnout and the legitimacy of the elections.

"The situation is similar to announcing a final result of a match at the end of the first half," he said in a statement.

"The turnout must be calculated in the two sessions, not in one session."

Under the new constitution drafted by Saied and approved by a referendum last July, the new parliament will have very limited powers.

With the main parties absent, a total of 1,058 candidates - only 120 of them women - were running for 161 seats.

For 10 of those - seven in Tunisia and three decided by expatriate voters - there is just one candidate. A further seven of the seats decided by expatriate voters have no candidates running at all.

The election was part of a series of political changes made by Saied after he shut down the previous parliament last year, in moves his critics have called a coup.

After the turnout figures were announced, major parties, among them the Salvation Front, which includes the Islamist Ennahda party and its arch-rival, the Free Constitutional Party, said Saied had no legitimacy and should step down, calling for massive protests.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Deepa Babington

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