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The democratic crisis in Tunisia worsens when the suspension of Parliament is extended by one year

The president of Tunisia, Kais Said, 63, has finally shown the road map that even many of those who supported him demanded so much on July 25, when he suspended the functions of Parliament and assumed the main powers of the State. Said delivered a televised speech this Monday afternoon in which he announced that Parliament will remain suspended for a year, specifically until early legislative elections are held on December 17, 2022.

Said intends to eliminate the current Constitution, in force since 2014. He has announced a period of consultations via the Internet between January and March 2022 in order to know the wishes of the “people” on possible reforms. A committee will be in charge of preparing a synthesis of the proposals before the end of June. And on July 25 of next year, when the first anniversary since Said canceled the activity of Parliament, a referendum on the reform will be called. Finally, on December 17, the legislative sessions will be held. On that same date, 12 years ago, the demonstrations that led to the exile of the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and the advent of democracy began.

Said promised to keep that schedule, in order to “restore power to the people.” All the measures adopted by the president since July, he has taken them with the promise of restoring a true democracy. Until two years ago, Said was just a professor of Constitutional Law who used to appear as a commentator or talkative on television shows. He presented himself as an austere man, saying that he wanted to start a “revolution within the revolution.” And he swept the 2019 presidential elections, with 72.7% of the votes compared to 27.29% for his rival, the television mogul Nabil Karui.

The 2014 Constitution limits the powers of the President to Security and Foreign Policy. But Article 80 gives it the ability to assume legislative powers in the event of an exceptional situation. And that article is the one that Said brandished on July 25 to suspend the functions of Parliament. Two months later, he assumed new functions that allowed him to govern by decree. On September 29, Said appointed a woman as prime minister for the first time in Tunisia. It is about the technocrat Najla Buden, 63 years old. But never was that position so devoid of skills. Now, Said has announced his roadmap without having agreed to it with any political party.

Youssef Cherif, director of the Tunis branch of Columbia Global Centers, believes that the president's intentions are probably good. “But he wants to establish a constitution made to measure and without public debate.” Cherif believes that Said is a leader not very inclined to negotiate, who intends to re-found Tunisia, but has little means to do so. The Tunisian political scientist warns that Said's project consolidates “an authoritarian system” that can be used in the future to lead the country “with an iron fist.”

The economic situation of the country is, to say the least, worrying. Unemployment remains at 18%, the economy has only grown by an average of 0.8% in the last decade, the foreign debt stands at 100% of GDP and the fiscal deficit at 11.4%. The economy contracted 8.8% in 2020 due to the pandemic. And inflation has risen in October to 6.3%. The Government is now trying to obtain a loan from the IMF worth 4,000 million dollars (3,300 million euros).

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Tunisian netizen Sarah Ben Hamadi, who has some 139,000 followers on Twitter, points out that the fact that the president has finally announced a calendar is good news because it allows people to know about his project. But he believes that time plays against Said. “From the outset, its popularity level is weakening, although it is still high.” Ben Hamadi predicts that 2022 will be a year of financial difficulties where Said's opponents will have time to organize. “The president will be the only one responsible this time. He will no longer be able to attack Parliament, because he is the only one who decides now. No government action is taken without their approval. ”

The European Union, through Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, already conveyed to Kais Said in September its fears regarding “the preservation of the democratic heritage in Tunisia”. But the president has gone his own way and has only revealed his project four months after suspending the functions of Parliament.

Bosco Govantes, professor of Political Science at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, points out in a telephone conversation that Said's measures confirm his authoritarian drift. Govantes calls the constitutional reform plan opaque. “Said talks about online consultations with the people, but excludes the parties and organized civil society. It gives the impression that the country is heading towards a hyper-presidential political system, without political parties. Perhaps something similar to what exists in Iran. ”

Govantes is also concerned about a measure in which Said plans to prosecute those who violate the interests of the state. “This broadens the possibility of repression. Any opposition to its measures can be considered as an attack against the State ”, he concludes.

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