Tunisia's president is weakening parties and the press

Dhe Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed is sticking to his political agenda. The constitutional referendum in July is to be followed by parliamentary elections on December 17th. Like the constitution before him, the head of state, who largely took power the summer before last, wrote the new electoral law himself. It weakens the parties who hold Saïed and many Tunisians responsible for their country's ongoing crisis.

In the future, the voters should choose the candidates individually and no longer from lists drawn up by the parties. This weakens their influence. At the same time, the House of Representatives will be reduced from 217 to 161 members. He is joined by a second chamber, the Assembly of Regions and Districts. It is unclear how this is elected and what competences it has in addition to the first chamber.

Penalties for fake news

"We are going through a new stage in the history of Tunisia on the way to popular sovereignty after the previous sham elections," said the President. The main parties also reject the electoral law under the new constitution. They announced a boycott. The electoral law is reminiscent of the times of the dictator Ben Ali and was part of the "coup against constitutional legitimacy," the National Salvation Front said. The Islamist Ennahdha party also belongs to this coalition of several parties. The leader of the PDL party, Abir Moussi, also rejects the reformed electoral law. The opposition had already boycotted the constitutional referendum, in which only about 30 percent of those entitled to vote took part. Of them, almost 95 percent had approved the draft constitution.

A second presidential decree, which first suspended and later dissolved parliament in 2021, worries Tunisian journalists in particular. Anyone who spreads “false information or rumours” faces a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of more than 15,000 euros. The prison sentence can be increased to ten years if the fake news affects senior officials. The National Union of Journalists Tunisia warns against a "muzzle" for society as a whole. The decree aims to prosecute those who disagree with the President. Under Saïed, the pressure on the independent media had increased. Just last week, another journalist was arrested.

Criticism of the president has so far been limited and there have been no major demonstrations. However, the economic crisis is much more threatening for the regime. The influential trade union association UGTT warns of a "social explosion" and threatened general strikes in the autumn, which are unlikely to happen for the time being. A few days ago, the government agreed with the UGTT that salaries will increase by 3.5 percent annually over the next three years; the minimum wage is also to be increased, while state-owned companies will not be privatized. This agreement paves the way for a loan of up to $4 billion from the International Monetary Fund, on which Tunisia's economic survival depends.

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