Tunisia’s president has seized control of the country’s election commission, saying he would replace most of its members in a move that will entrench his one-man rule and cast doubt on electoral integrity.
In his decree on Friday, President Kais Saied said he would select three of the existing nine members of the electoral commission to stay on, serving in a new seven-member panel with three judges and an information technology specialist.
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The judges would be selected by the Supreme Judicial Council, a body he also unilaterally replaced this year in a move seen as undermining the independence of the judiciary.
The former law professor, elected in 2019 amid public anger against the political class, has already dismissed parliament and taken control of the judiciary after assuming executive authority last year and saying he could rule by decree in moves his opponents denounce as a coup.
Saied, who says his actions were both legal and needed to save Tunisia from a crisis, is rewriting the democratic constitution introduced after the 2011 revolution and says he will put it to a referendum in July.
The majority of parties in Tunisia reject Saied’s power seizure, with some accusing him of orchestrating a coup against the constitution.
Other parties, however, have supported Saied’s decisions in light of the political, economic, and health crises the North African country is facing.
The commission head Nabil Baffoun told the Reuters news agency that Saied’s decree was a blow to the democratic gains of the country’s 2011 revolution and meant the body was no longer independent.
“It has become the president’s commission,” he said.
Baffoun had angered Saied by criticising his plans to hold a referendum and a later parliamentary election, saying such votes could only happen within the framework of the existing constitution.
This week, referring to Saied’s expected announcements, Baffoun said the president was not allowed to change the membership of the electoral commission or to rewrite electoral laws by decree.
Meanwhile, the head of Tunisia’s Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, said Saied’s takeover of the country’s independent electoral commission means future elections “will lose all credibility”.
Speaking to Reuters by phone, he said Saied’s decree to replace the members of the commission represents “another attempt to stifle the revolution”.
While Saied has focused on restructuring Tunisian politics, a looming economic crisis threatens to unravel his plans, as the government struggles to finance its 2022 deficit and repay debts.
Talks between Tunisian negotiators and the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package resumed in the United States this week.
Tunisia’s main Western donors have urged Saied to return to a democratic, constitutional path.