Tunisian president announces changes to electoral system in yet another controversial move

Several opposition parties have already indicated that they will not participate in any constitutional referendum or elections based on a new set of rules drawn up unilaterally by the president

April 07, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Tunisian president brings electoral changes
Tunisian president Kais Saied. (Photo: Middle East Online)

On Wednesday, April 6, Tunisian president Kais Saied introduced changes to the voting system for the forthcoming elections. The move is the latest in a series of unilateral arbitrary actions taken by the president without any consultation with other stakeholders in the country’s political process. The president had assumed virtually all legislative and executive powers in the country last July in what the opposition termed a “presidential coup”. He has since initiated several measures to alter the political and judicial systems established after the 2011 revolution against then president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In his statement on Wednesday, President Saied said that the election will be held in two rounds and that the previous mechanism of voting for party lists will be done away with and replaced by direct voting for individual candidates. He said that the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) will supervise the elections but its composition will most likely be changed. Currently, the ISIE has nine members and 27 branches across Tunisia, along with six overseas branches to serve Tunisians abroad – four in Europe, one in Canada and one in the United Arab Emirates.

Saied also spoke on the upcoming national referendum to replace the post-revolution constitution with a new one. He said that “the national dialogue has been launched, and the national consultation will be the basis of the dialogue, and a new constitution will be prepared, and the word will be for the people through a referendum.” His push to replace the constitution is in complete disregard of the widespread opposition to the move.

The president also threw barbs at his political opposition, remarking that “dialogue with national organizations is the beginning and we will continue [it] with the parties, but there will be no dialogue with thieves and with the putschists, traitors and thieves.” He claimed that “conspirators will be forbidden from running” in the upcoming elections.

Commenting on the president’s latest move, Said Benarbia, Middle East and North Africa director at the International Commission of Jurists, said in a tweet, “the president is illegally and arbitrarily changing the rules of play, deciding who should play, and selecting the arbiter as well. Rampant, unbridled authoritarianism in full display.” 

The leaders of Ennahda and the Free Constitutional party also expressed their intention to not participate in any referendum or elections that are held under a restructured system. Many others like the Citizens Against the Coup movement and the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the country’s biggest labor union, also denounced the president’s actions, including his most recent move to dissolve the national parliament after over a hundred parliamentarians met in a virtual online session and voted in favor of labeling all the president’s actions since last July illegal. Tunisian anti-terror authorities in the aftermath of the vote summoned several of the members for questioning for unconfirmed reasons. Among those summoned was Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi.

In July 2021, president Saied dismissed the prime minister and the entire cabinet and delegated virtually all legislative and executive powers to himself. Among the reasons he cited for the move was the country’s failing economy and the inept healthcare system that was struggling to handle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He subsequently appointed a self-chosen interim government, gave himself the power to rule by decree, and suspended parts of the constitution, all in an effort to consolidate his position in power. In January this year, he announced the controversial decision to hold a referendum to bring in a new constitution, to be followed by general elections in accordance with the new constitution. The president’s moves have been condemned and opposed by all sections of society including political parties, activists, journalists, lawyers, judges, labor unions and the general public.

× To Subscribe