March 30, 2023

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Tunisia: Voting for a reduced parliament, participation an issue

Tunisia will hold a second round of parliament on Sunday, aimed at electing a parliament that has lost real powers, where participation is a vital issue in a context of political divisions and economic problems.

In total, 262 candidates are on the ballot for 131 representatives (161 seats), marking the last phase of reforms imposed by President Qaiz Syed over a year and a half to return to a super-presidential system. Before the 2011 revolution and the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

After months of political deadlock, Mr. Syed seized all power on July 25, 2021, then dissolved parliament before reforming the constitution last summer, abolishing the hybrid parliamentary system in place since 2014.

A head of state now impossible to rule out, the new legislature will define its prerogatives: it will take 10 representatives to introduce a bill and presidential speeches will be voted on in priority.

To eventually topple the government, approval of two no-confidence motions is necessary, and two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the National Regional Council have yet to be constituted.

On Sunday evening, all eyes will be on the highest abstention vote since the advent of democracy 12 years ago, with 11.2% of the electorate on December 17 after the defeat in the first round.

Although 7.8 million Tunisians were invited to the polls, experts again predicted a low turnout.

– “Lack of Interest” –

Ennahda, the Islamist-inspired party that has dominated parliament for the past decade – Mr. Saeed’s pet – boycotting this election, it is the culmination of a “conspiracy rule” for them, and it is the culmination of a “conspiracy rule”. Dictatorship slippage at the cradle of the Arab Spring”.

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Additionally, the majority of candidates are unknown and are not allowed to show political affiliation.

“I don’t want to vote, I can’t trust anyone anymore,” said Rita, a carpenter interviewed in Tunis.

AFP Youssef Cherif points out that “due to the people’s lack of interest” in politics, “this parliament will have little legitimacy, and the president, thanks to the 2022 constitution, is all-powerful and can dominate it as he wishes.” , an expert at Columbia Global Centers.

The attention of 12 million Tunisians is elsewhere.

They see their purchasing power fall with inflation above 10% and experience shortages of subsidized food items such as milk, coffee, sugar or cooking oil.

For economists, these shortages are explained by supply bottlenecks, as the state lacks liquidity and suppliers prefer to pay in advance.

US ratings agency Moody’s announced on Saturday that it had downgraded Tunisia’s long-term debt to another level with a “Caa2 negative outlook”, judging it to be “high risk” due to non-payment of some maturities.

– “Dramatic economic situation” –

“The economic situation is dramatic. The country is on the brink of collapse,” political scientist Hamadi Redisi told AFP, worried that President Sayyid would blame the deficit on “+speculators+,+traitors+,+vandals+.”

Growth is sluggish (less than 3%), unemployment is high (over 15%), poverty is on the rise and 32,000 Tunisians immigrated illegally last year.

Another cause for concern: Negotiations with the IMF for a new $1.9 billion loan, key to other foreign aid, have been stalled for months. After an agreement in principle in mid-October, the fund still needs to give a firmer green light.

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According to experts, this blockage is linked to “internal causes”. “There is an apparent contradiction between the president’s premature declarations of sovereignty against international organizations and the government’s proposed plan to the International Monetary Fund,” said Mr. Redici considers.

President Syed “seems reluctant to accept”, Mr. According to Sherif, the reforms people don’t want include eliminating government subsidies on basic products and restructuring the hundreds or more indebted public companies, with more workers.