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Tunisian President Downplays Low Voter Turnout

FILE - Tunisia's President Kais Saied casts his ballot at a polling station, during a referendum on a new constitution, in Tunis, July 25, 2022.

Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Wednesday played down low voter turnout in December's legislative elections while berating critics who have accused him of leading the country toward dictatorship.

In the Dec. 17 polls, just 11.2% of registered voters took part in the elections, capping Saied's overhaul of the political system since his sweeping power grab last year.

Initially announced at just under 9%, voter turnout was the lowest since the 2011 revolution that saw the overthrow of long time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The development is viewed as a blow to Saied and his political regime.

"Turnout of 9% or 12% is better than 99% in previous elections, which were welcomed by foreign countries even though they knew they were rigged," Saied said in a monologue to his cabinet.

He then lashed out at unnamed critics, accusing them of "drowning in corruption and treachery" and "plotting against the state," and its "internal and external security.''

"This cannot continue, and these people cannot go unpunished," he said in a video posted on his office's Facebook page.

The president's power grab began in July last year, when he sacked the government and suspended parliament, before moving to seize control of the judiciary.

Saied, 64, also accused unnamed detractors of being behind repeated shortages of basic goods in recent months, saying they aimed to "incite against institutions of the state."

He denied accusations that human rights have been undermined in recent months, calling those who made such claims "mercenaries."