Above Photo: Tunisian President Kais Saied.
President Kais Saied, despite enjoying absolute power for the last two years, has done little to improve the economic and social situation.
The people struggle with high inflation, poverty, unemployment, and acute shortages of basic food items. Meanwhile, he has concentrated power and repressed opposition
June 25 marked two years since Tunisian President Kais Saied virtually took over the country in what has come to be called a ‘Presidential coup.’ Over the past two years, he has sought to reshape the state to fit his own vision. Notably missing in this project has been the people of Tunisia. Two years later, Tunisia has a new constitution and a new parliament but these were ‘approved’ despite intense opposition from political parties and civil society and extremely poor participation from the people.
In a statement released on the anniversary of the Saied’s takeover, the Workers’ Party of Tunisia said that two years later, “the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and is suffering from increasing dependence: very heavy indebtedness, an unprecedented trade deficit, double or close to double-digit inflation, continuous disintegration of production systems etc.” The party noted that this had led to general unemployment, extreme poverty, irregular migration, tens of thousands of people leaving the country, and the scarcity of basic materials, including bread.
On July 25, 2021, President Saied unilaterally dissolved the Tunisian parliament and dismissed the prime minister along with the entire cabinet, accusing them of misgovernance and incompetence which he said was the cause for the country’s declining economic situation and social and political crisis. In the subsequent period, he took further measures to consolidate power.
In September 2021, he announced his intention of amending the Tunisian constitution of 2014 which was adopted after the country’s 2011 revolution, and said he would hold general elections based on the new constitution. These decisions were met with widespread criticism and opposition nationwide. In February 2022, he dismissed the powerful Supreme Judicial Council, one of the few remaining checks on the president’s power, and replaced it with a new council. Notably, the president gave himself power to appoint judges to the new council. He also banned judges from taking part in any collective action such as strikes or protests.
In July 2022, after a consultation process which was largely boycotted, Tunisia held a referendum for a draft constitution which saw a meager 30% participation. The government claimed that 94% percent of those who voted approved the new constitution. The general elections that took place in December based on the new constitution recorded an even lower voting percentage of 8.8%, primarily because of a massive boycott call from opposition parties and civil society groups. In the end, parties aligned with the president won a seemingly scripted and staged election. In the aftermath of the election, the country continues to be in economic doldrums and the Tunisian people continue to battle economic hardships. The government’s only solution seems to be loans from foreign governments and financial organizations, which are accompanied by debilitating austerity measures such as budget cuts. Faced with a pervasive crisis, Kais Saied has scapegoated migrants from sub-Saharan countries and has accepted funds from the European Union for controlling migration.
It its statement, the Workers’ Party said the Kais Saied regime, like the governments that had preceded it, had nothing to do with the revolution or the interests of the people but was pushing the country towards collapse and that the most affected by the situation were the people of all classes and groups who were paying the price with their blood. It also noted the repression of politicians, media professionals, and trade unionists, among others. The party said that the there is no solution to the dilemmas faced by Tunisia, except through the conscious and organized struggle against populism and other right-wing forces that Tunisians faced before and after the mass uprising of 2011. “The radical solutions for Tunisia and its people is nothing but new options that completely break with dependency, tyranny, and corruption and establish a people’s democracy that restores sovereignty to the people and the homeland,” the statement added.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Tunisians also protested in capital Tunis to mark two years of the presidential coup. Around 300 protesters took part in the demonstration organized by the opposition National Salvation Front formed in the aftermath of the presidential takeover. The protesters condemned the recent arrests and detention of around 20 opposition, media, and business figures and demanded their immediate and unconditional release. Those detained have since been charged with conspiring against state security, terrorism, and other similar charges.