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Kaïs Saïed promises legislative elections in Tunisia "on the basis of a new voting system"

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, April 12th 2022 à 11:20 | Read 345 times

While his country is in the midst of an economic, social and political crisis, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed continues his grip on the state while promising legislative elections in December 2022 after having decided to dissolve the Parliament.

With his Prime Minister, Kaïs Saïed prepares the legislative elections of December 2022 (photo: Tunisian Presidency)
With his Prime Minister, Kaïs Saïed prepares the legislative elections of December 2022 (photo: Tunisian Presidency)
TUNISIA. Demonstrations took place on Sunday 10 April 2022 in the streets of Tunis to protest against the decision of Kaïs Saïed to dissolve the Parliament with cries of "the people want to overthrow the coup". The day before, the President of the Tunisian Republic, in office since 2019 and for five years, tried to calm them down by announcing "Tunisians have been disappointed by the Assembly of People's Representatives (editor's note: ARP), but the next Parliament will reflect their will with sincerity and authenticity, contrary to what has happened in the past decades."

In July 2021, Kaïs Saïed began a process of taking back control of Tunisian politics. He adopted a succession of exceptional measures such as the freezing of the activities of the Parliament, the lifting of the immunity of deputies, the suspension of the Instance de contrôle de la constitutionnalité des lois, the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi (replaced by Najla Bouden Rhomdane at the end of September 2021 with fewer powers than her predecessor) and the dissolution of the Superior Council of Magistracy (February 2022). Since then, he has governed by presidential decree.

Today, the Tunisian President is taking a new step, indicating that "dialogue can only be held with sincere patriots, excluding anyone who has thrown himself into the arms of the foreigner."

Legislative elections in December 2022

Kaïs Saïed revealed that "the elections will be held on the basis of a new voting system", without specifying its contours.
A popular referendum will be held on 25 July 2022 "with the participation of all parties, to express their opinions and views on the nature of the political system", he said. After this consultation, he intends to create a commission that will be responsible for translating the wishes of Tunisians into a political text (a new constitution). A legislative session, based on new rules, should be held on 17 December 2022.

For their part, the deputies of the ARP are not giving up. Already on 30 March 2022, thirty of them had held a plenary session in virtual and voted to repeal the exceptional measures decided by Kaïs Saïed. This initiative was described as a "failed coup attempt" by the Tunisian president. And which had led to the dissolution of the Parliament in the name of "the preservation of the State and its institutions", he claimed.

On Saturday 9 April 2022, the 84th anniversary of the Martyrs' Day in Tunisia (in 1938, a demonstration for the independence of the country, still under French protectorate, had left 22 people dead), a press release from the presidency of the Parliament announced their "absolute rejection of the dissolution of the Parliament, for which the Tunisians sacrificed themselves". The text, signed by Rached Ghannouchi, president of the ARP and leader of the Islamist party Ennahdha, believes that "this unconstitutional decision will exacerbate the multidimensional crisis (political, economic and social) that shakes Tunisia and strengthen its isolation on the international scene in relation to the democratic space to which it belonged since the 2011 revolution". The MEPs denounce a "country that has embarked on the path of personal power that has established an autocratic regime".

A public debt of 107.8 billion dinars

On the same day, the President of the Republic announced that the state would compensate the families of people, police and military killed and injured during the 2011 revolution. Since the forced departure of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the country has not managed to consolidate its institutions and to anchor itself in the democracy desired by those who rose up against the former authoritarian regime.

Kaïs Saïed has entered a race against time on all fronts. Along with the political and social problems, he must also solve an economic equation.

Tunisia has a public debt of 107.8 billion dinars (€33.13 billion) at the end of 2021, or 85.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Monthly Public Debt Brochure, published on Thursday 7 April 2022 by the Tunisian Ministry of Finance, "the outstanding debt has increased by almost 16% compared to 2020 and by 30% compared to 2019". External debt currently represents 62.8% of the outstanding debt, i.e. 67.7 billion dinars (€20.8bn) in total, mainly composed of credits, of which 36 billion (€11.06bn) are multilateral debts and 13.8 billion (€4.24bn) are bilateral debts. According to the same official publication, debts contracted in foreign currency account for 64.5% (55% in euros) of the country's total debt, compared with 69.6% in 2020 and 72.3% in 2019.

At the end of October 2021, a report by the Centre d'Étude et de Réflexion sur le Monde Francophone (CERMF) included Tunisia for the first time in its ranking of the most indebted African countries in 2021, forecasting a public debt of 91.4%. "Once considered a model of economic and social development for the whole of Africa and the Arab world, despite some shortcomings, sometimes exaggerated, Tunisia has indeed experienced a lost decade by recording an annual economic growth of only 0.7% on average over the ten-year period 2011-2020," analysed the CERMF.

Joint investments with Libya

While on 8 April 2022, the Tunisian dinar fell to its lowest level against the US dollar for three years (3 dinars to the dollar), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), like the World Bank, is still trying to get involved in Tunisia. However, their aid is conditional on the adoption of reforms, particularly on public finances, and on political stabilisation. A Tunisian delegation is planning to go to Washington this month to secure an agreement.

Another possible supporter is neighbouring Libya. Mohammed Al-Huweij, Libyan Minister of Economy and Trade, proposed in early April 2022 to his Tunisian counterpart, Samir Saied, "the establishment of a joint investment card" between their two countries. It would mainly concern joint investment projects in sectors such as the food and pharmaceutical industries with the creation of a special zone located in the city of Zuwara (Libya) that would extend to the Tunisian border. However, Libya is in chaos with two rival governments.

In mid-March 2022, the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics (INS) unveiled a 3.1% increase in GDP for 2021, compared to the 2.6% forecast. However, this should be compared with a decline of 8.7% recorded in 2020. As indicated by the INS, "the short-term prospects are particularly difficult in view of the latest developments on the international scene and their repercussions on the national economy, the weakness of the economic sentiment prevailing among business leaders and the strong inflationary pressures at work, even if they relieve the deleveraging of economic agents."

Tunisia also faces a trade balance deficit of 16.2 billion dinars (€4.98bn) in 2021. "This evolution is explained, on the one hand, by the increase of our exports to some European partners, such as France (+10.7%), Italy (+31.4%) and Germany (+24.9%); and on the other hand, by the fall of our sales to other countries, including Spain (-16.4%) and Greece (-5.6%)," said the INS in January 2022.

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