Tunisians protest against Saied ahead of parliamentary elections

Opponents say a vote on December 17 under the country’s new constitution is illegitimate and are calling for a boycott.

Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups protest against the upcoming parliamentary election in Tunis
Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups are calling for a boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

Hundreds of Tunisians have taken to the streets to protest against President Kais Saied a week before parliamentary elections are set to take place under a new constitution.

“Saied get out!” protesters chanted as they marched in the centre of the capital, Tunis, on Saturday.

Speakers at the protest, including senior politicians from opposition parties, said the vote scheduled for December 17 was illegitimate and urged a boycott, accusing Saied of carrying out an undemocratic coup.

“All the opposition is agreed on one position which is rejecting a coup and calling for a return to democracy,” Samira Chaouachi, a deputy speaker in the elected parliament that Saied dissolved, said.

Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups protest against the upcoming parliamentary election in Tunis
The slogan ‘Degage’, the French for ‘Get out’, became a rallying cry during the 2011 protests that ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

The president shut down the previous parliament in March 2021 and ruled by decree before rewriting the constitution to accrue more powers.

Only about a quarter of registered voters turned out to vote “yes” in July to a referendum on the new constitution, which gives the president the ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.

The International Commission of Jurists’ Regional Directo Said Benarbia warned that the new constitution “defeats the very idea of separation of powers and checks and balances”.

He said that the “proposed constitution provides for an unbridled presidential system, with an omnipotent president, a powerless parliament and a toothless judiciary”.

Saied claimed his actions were legal and necessary in order to save Tunisia from years of crisis and has repeatedly said he will not become a dictator.

The National Salvation Front, a body representing the main parties in Tunisia’s opposition, including Ennahdha, has been urging supporters to boycott the vote.

“The elections will be held under the supervision of a body that is not neutral and is loyal to the ruling authority,” Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the head of the alliance, said as he announced its stance in September.

Many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.

Saied still retains support from Tunisians who see him as a bulwark against political elites they blame for the country’s poor economic conditions over the decade since a 2011 revolution overthrew former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies