Kais Saied is the prophet of a new world order, the apologist for a new model of democracy that follows the stylistic features of authoritarianism. This is why Saied is liked by the Western elites. A veil of “global” silence has fallen on what is happening in Tunisia. Yet, on December 17, Tunisia goes to the vote to choose its new Parliament. But democracy in the land of jasmine no longer exists. In a year and a half, President Kais Saied has demolished the institutional rules, changed the Constitution and imposed a new electoral law which effectively excludes political parties from competition.
Three years ago, when Tunisians voted to elect the new parliament, they could choose from around 15,000 candidates presented by 31 national parties, plus an indefinable number of independents and local lists; 20 different parties managed to elect deputies, the independents elected were only 11 in a parliament of 217 seats. Next December 17, the date set for the first round of new political elections (which unlike in the past will take place with the single-member two-round system rather than the proportional system), the choice will be restricted among 1,058 candidates, mostly independent. There will be only 3 parties in the running. In 7 of the 161 constituencies not a single candidate presented itself (400 signatures needed to be collected, at least half of which were women, and at least a quarter of people under 35) and in 10 constituencies the name on the electoral bulletin is only one.
To understand what is happening in Tunisia, we need to list what has happened in the last year and a half. Simply, the stages of the coup that changed Tunisia. Kais Saied was elected president of the Republic of Tunisia in October 2019. An independent candidate, he won the runoff with 72.7 percent of the votes in the runoff in October 2019. Since then he has set up an autocratic policy that aims to exclude parties, based on independent candidates and local authorities.
Saied first suspended parliament in July 2021 and then dissolved it in March this year. The Tunisian president has also canceled the Council of the Judiciary, replacing it with a provisional body that answers directly to the Presidency of the Republic. The government was replaced with a new executive with limited powers. The Constitution has been rewritten. Censorship, judicial repression, arrests of opponents are the pillars of the new “democracy”.
The first point on Saied’s political agenda is the recovery of the economy, through the fight against corruption and speculation. In reality, it has not achieved any results in terms of economic recovery. Indeed, Tunisia is one step away from economic default. The country is sinking into poverty, with a food crisis that can already be called famine. In Tunisia, everything is missing, from bread to medicines. Inflation that has exceeded 10 percent annually has been compounded by a dramatic shortage of basic necessities: hydrocarbons, flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, coffee. The fault of the Russian-Ukrainian war, but also the consequence of a State which holds the monopoly of a good part of imports and which, in addition to the old incapacity to manage stocks, today no longer has cash in hand to pay suppliers.
Ordinary people can only get by thanks to government subsidies for the purchase of basic necessities, from bread to fuel. In 2022, the Tunisian government spent 8 percent of GDP on these subsidies. This is money that Tunis does not have: this year the deficit is equal to 7 billion euros. Hopefully another loan from the International Monetary Fund. But Tunisia is already overwhelmed by debts: before the end of 2022 Tunisia must repay 1.8 billion euros of international loans, next year 2.25 and in 2024 another 2.85 billion. Between 2023 and 2027, Tunisia must repay 11 billion euros of foreign debt. In addition, the short-term trade credits of state entities and public enterprises, accumulated since 2018, exceed 3 billion euros.
To allow the Tunisian state not to go bankrupt, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it is willing to lend 1.9 billion euros in several tranches over the next four years, on condition that in the same period
Tunisia provides a series of reforms which include the reduction in the amount of subsidies for basic necessities, the curbing of salaries in the civil service (which has 700,000 employees who support 3 million people in a country with 12 million inhabitants) and the reabsorption (i.e. taxation) of the informal economy, which is worth 20 percent of GDP. These are reforms that would surely unleash popular anger and fierce opposition from the country’s only union, the powerful UGTT, the general union of Tunisian workers
In this catastrophic situation, Tunisia goes to vote. Almost all of the Tunisian parties have decided to boycott the elections called by the head of state on the basis of the new Constitution approved in a referendum in which 30 percent of those entitled to vote took part on 25 July and the new electoral law enacted with a presidential decree on 15 September last. Saied’s men will win. The elections are boycotted by entire sectors of society and by the historic Tunisian parties: Destouriens, Ennahdha, National Salvation Front, Afek Tounes, Attayar, Al-Massar.
Those who can run away: over 13,000 Tunisians have crossed the Strait of Sicily to seek a better future in Europe.
Despite the economic, political and social catastrophe, Kais Saied is a man that global powers like. Particular attention to the Tunisia dossier is reserved by the US State Department. The last official visit dates back to last week, when Brett McGurk, coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa of the United States Security Council was received in Tunis by President Saied. This renewed attention to Tunisia is also the sign of a new strategic repositioning of the Anglo-US alliance in North Africa. Libya teaches.