Critics fear for democracy as new election law takes effect in Tunisia

By Natalia Román Morte

Tunis, Dec 14 (EFE).- A new electoral law being applied for the first time on Saturday has changed the political landscape in Tunisia, with analysts and the opposition fearing the changes could lead to unequal representation in parliament and set democracy back years in the north African country.

The change is the latest power move by president Kais Saied, who in July 2021 suspended parliament and extended his influence and control in the wake of protests demanding major political reforms and against the deteriorating economic situation due to the pandemic, claiming the measures were needed to resolve the country’s political deadlock.

Under the new law, parties will be replaced by individual candidates, while the number of seats is reduced from 217 to 161.

In unilaterally declaring the bill in September, Saied argued it would put an end to the “sham elections” of the last decade and return “​​sovereignty” to the people.

Tunisia’s political parties have opposed the bill as it prevents them from participating or supporting candidacies, while protesters have returned to the streets to demand a return to democracy and Saied’s resignation.

Critics of the law can be found across the country’s political spectrum, from those who pine for the days under Ben Ali’s dictatorship which was overthrown during the Arab Spring in 2011, to liberals, and those who lean left, accuse Saied of plotting an unconstitutional coup and are calling for an election boycott.

One of their main concerns is the disparity between the different constituencies, now designated by neighborhoods, localities, countries and even entire continents, which could give more weight to less densely populated regions to the detriment of large cities.

Parliament, which has now been closed for 14 months, will reopen its doors in March 2023, said the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), whose legitimacy has been questioned following a reform that allows Saeid to appoint its members.

Salim Kharrat, head of the NGO Al Bawsala, explains that new price hikes, shortages of necessities and the withdrawal of food and fuel subsidies, as well as repressive measures against freedom of expression and the press — two of the most significant achievements of the Tunisian revolution in 2011 — are voters’ main concerns.

Turnout is also a major question mark, given that the last “popular consultation” — a digital survey to find out citizens’ concerns and proposals — only saw 6% participation, while a constitutional referendum in July saw 30%.


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