Friday, March 24, 2023

Tunisia: a new Parliament with weakened powers

After twenty months of closure, the Tunisian Parliament reopened on Monday. The decor, under the dome of the Bardo Palace, in the suburbs of Tunis, remains the same. But everything else, or almost, has changed: the powers of the Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP) have been significantly reduced in favor of President Kaïs Saïed, in a distribution established by the new Constitution adopted last summer. Thus, the executive no longer has to obtain the confidence of Parliament and the latter is required to examine “in priority” the bills submitted by the President.

The members of the Assembly were then renewed this winter. Difficult to identify the political color of the 154 new occupants of the hemicycle (out of the 161 seats that were to be filled). The new electoral law prohibited candidates from displaying their political party affiliation. Kaïs Saïed, moreover, declared last weekend his opposition to the formation of parliamentary blocs: the latter “are part of the past and the legislation must reflect the general will and not the interests of certain parties nostalgic for the old ARP or the last decade,” he said, according to the Tunisian press.

For their part, the parties that dominated Tunisian political life during the decade following the Revolution disputed the legitimacy of this new Assembly elected by barely more than 10% of Tunisians. The legislative elections had indeed been marked by a call for a boycott from the opposition and by a general disinterest of the population, more concerned about the economic difficulties of the country.

Access to the press prohibited

The main opposition coalition to President Saïed, the National Salvation Front (FSN), claimed not to recognize this new Parliament “resulting from a putschist Constitution and elections shunned by the overwhelming majority of voters”. The main force in the previous Parliament, the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha also refuses to recognize “a parliamentary assembly devoid of any legitimacy”.

As for journalists, they were denied access to the Parliament building, with the exception of the national television channel and the official Tunis Afrique Presse agency. An elected representative from the Sfax constituency explained that a group of deputies had decided to close the Parliament to private and foreign Tunisian media to “avoid any confusion and perhaps convey an inappropriate image of Parliament”.

Municipal councils dissolved

What reinforce, again, concerns about the authoritarian turn taken by the young democracy. “What is happening is dangerous and reflects the authorities’ unjustified distrust of the media,” commented Amira Mohamed, vice-president of the Tunisian Journalists’ Union.

Another chamber, with still vague contours, must be elected: the Assembly of Regions. At the same time, Kaïs Saïed dissolved last week all the municipal councils elected in 2018 and considered an important achievement of the Revolution. The mandates of the 350 mayors and municipal councilors are due to expire at the end of April. They will be replaced by “special delegations”, made up of civil servants and which will be placed under the supervision of the governor of each region.


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