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President Saïed's election plan faces mass boycott challenge

Opposition parties are touring Europe trying to rally support against the President’s deepening authoritarianism

Having won a referendum, albeit on a low turnout of 30%, for his constitutional reform proposals, President Kaïs Saïed is now planning to consolidate his grip on power in legislative elections due on 17 December.

But he faces the prospect of most of the opposition parties refusing to participate. Last week, the Afek Tounès party became the 11th to state its intention to boycott them.

It joins Ennahda, Heart of Tunisia, Dignity Coalition, Movement Party, Al Amal, the Republican Party, Workers' Party, Democratic Modernist Pole, Democratic Current, and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties.

The electoral reform law tabled by President Saïed on 15 September, modelled on the systems in Britain and France, is intended to break the influence of the existing parties. It would replace the closed party list system with individual lawmakers elected to represent 161 constituencies (including 10 abroad).

Under the new constitution, Saïed has the power to appoint a government without the need for a vote of confidence, while a two-thirds majority in both chambers of parliament is required to pass a no-confidence motion. Parliament would not have the power to impeach the president (AC Vol 63 No 14, Saïed ratchets up the autocracy).

At the same time, Saïed called on citizens to take part in the legislative elections in December.

The opposition parties, which accounted for the vast majority of seats in the dissolved National Assembly, struggle to articulate a clear alternative to Saïed's policies or find a way to oust him. That has been the case since Saïed dissolved parliament and sacked the government in July 2021.

The parties and the cross-party Citizens against the Coup initially hoped that Saïed's popularity would collapse. But demonstrations have not gained enough momentum or size to threaten the President (Dispatches 1/2/22, Islamist chief warns of social explosion after Kaïs Saïed's 'coup').

Afek Tounès says that President Saïed should call early presidential elections. That is a very distant prospect.

The security services continue to aggressively target opposition leaders. Ennahda said that its 81-year-old party leader Rachid Ghannouchi had been kept in custody for interrogation for more than 14 hours on what they described as 'fabricated' terrorism charges. Former prime minister Ali Larayedh, also an Ennahda member, was also detained.

In early October a cross-party delegation including the centrist Qalb Tounès, the social-democrat Tayyar party, Ennahda and Citizens against the Coup will tour European capitals in a bid to generate diplomatic and political support (Dispatches 20/7/22, Opposition steps up campaign against Saïed's constitution).

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