Tunisian elections are the third phase of President Kais Saied’s coup project: Ali Jallouli

Ali Jallouli, a leader of left-wing Workers’ Party of Tunisia, analyzes the recent second round of the parliamentary election, the resistance to President Kais Saied, and why the Tunisian revolution has not option but to succeed

February 03, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Massive protests led by the Tunisian Workers' Party against President Kais Saied on January 14. Photo: Dhouha Kallali/Facebook

The extremely low turnout in the second round of the Tunisia’s parliamentary elections has yet again raised questions about the political project of President Kais Saied who since July 2021 has sought to reshape the country’s institutions unilaterally. The run-off elections on Sunday January 29 saw a turnout of only 11.4% of the 7.8 million voters, according to the country’s Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE). The runoffs were to decide the winners of 131 of the 161 seats in the Tunisian parliament. 

The first round of elections on December 17  witnessed a turnout of only 11.2% of voters, and only 23 candidates registered victories. The elections were boycotted by all major political parties. 

Speaking to Peoples Dispatch, Ali Jallouli, Member of the Executive Committee of the left-wing Workers’ Party of Tunisia said that these elections were a sign of the collapse of democracy and a step backwards as most political parties did not take part. He noted that only Kais Saied’s base and associates, as well as elements of the mafia, took part in the elections which he termed were conducted on the basis of traditional relations which the Tunisian people have struggled against.

The elections were the first held under a new constitution which came into effect in July last year following a referendum where once again the turnout had been low (around 30%). An online public consultation prior to the referendum had also seen little participation. Ali Jallouli referred to the parliamentary elections as the third stage of Kais Saied’s coup project after the consultation and the referendum. “The election was held under a constitution which gives no real power to parliament. The parliament has no control over the executive. It is just a forum to protect Saied’s supporters and friends,” Jallouli said. The parliamentary elections eliminated the role of political parties with candidates contesting as individuals as opposed to being representatives of their parties. The constituencies have also been made smaller so as to enable this project of the president, he added.

Several observers noted serious violations of election rules in different parts of the country during the runoffs. In some places, people claimed they were prevented from entering the polling booths, while in some areas, campaigns were still being conducted at the time of voting. Local election observer Mourakiboun accused the ISIE of violating “the basic tenets of elections through the whole process, mainly transparency, independence, and equality between candidates,” TAP reported.  

Chronology of a coup

The elections in Tunisia took place as the country is in the throes of a deep political and economic crisis.  In July 2021, Kais Saied cited similar political and economic instability as the reason to dismiss the elected government and dissolve parliament.  The Workers’ Party was among the first organizations in Tunisia to take a strong stand against Kais Saied’s actions. Ali Jallouli noted that the president’s actions were a coup was against the democratic constitution of Tunisia and achievements of people, especially in the field of democracy and liberty and freedom. The previous constitution had been drafted after the Tunisian Revolution of 2010-11 which overthrew long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Almost two years after Kais Saied’s overthrow of the elected government, the instability has worsened. Inflation has risen to double digits and unemployment is at over 18%. The government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a USD 2 billion loan as a bailout package which might bring more austerity policies. Ali Jallouli added that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and normalization with Zionist forces and subordination to the US agenda has intensified. “In the midst of this, Kais Saied continues to deliver regressive speeches which aim to divide the people,” he said.

However, there has been increasing resistance to the actions of the president. Ali Jallouli cited the massive protests on January 14 against the elections as an example. “A number of factors indicate that in the future, there will be a return to the revolutionary process. Tunisia has no option but make its revolution succeed,” he concluded.