Tunisia’s Saied sets presidential election date for October 6

The vote comes as many of Saied’s political opponents and media critics are in jail or facing prosecution.

Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks to the media
Tunisia's President Kais Saied [Mohamed Messara/EPA]

Tunisian President Kais Saied has called a presidential election for October 6, setting himself up for possible re-election as many of his political opponents are behind bars.

Announcing the date in an official decree on Monday, Saied did not confirm whether he would seek re-election but is widely expected to stand for another five-year term.

The former constitutional law professor was elected to office in 2019 as an anti-establishment stalwart promising to root out corruption.

He took full control of the country in 2021, dismissing the elected parliament and moving to rule by decree in a move the opposition slammed as a coup.

He then oversaw the writing of a new constitution, approved by referendum in 2022, establishing a presidential system and weakening parliament.

Economic and political turmoil

Saied’s power grab has pushed Tunisia, whose economy has been faltering for more than a decade, deeper into crisis. Unemployment stands at 15 percent and about four million of the country’s 12 million people live in poverty.

A crackdown has seen the prosecution of more than 60 journalists, lawyers and political opponents, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

The opposition says fair and credible elections cannot be held unless imprisoned politicians are released and journalists are allowed to do their jobs without pressure from the government.

“Kais Saied from now until the elections has a long list of individuals, associations, parties and journalists whom he will gradually criminalise to always maintain the sympathy of his electoral base,” Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) had told Al Jazeera in May.

“The regime’s machinery is operating very efficiently, meaning it devours anyone who has a critical perspective on the situation.”

‘Growing crackdown on human rights’

Opposition parties, including the Ennahdha and the Free Constitutional Party, say Saied is targeting their leading figures to avoid potential rivals in the upcoming presidential race.

Free Constitutional Party leader and potential challenger to Saied, Abir Moussi, has been in prison since last year on charges of harming public security.

Other potential election candidates, including Safi Saeed, Lotfi Maraihi, Nizar Chaari and Abd Ellatif Mekki, are also facing prosecution for alleged crimes such as fraud and money laundering.

Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi is in jail on accusations his party received foreign funding. Amnesty International has described his case as part of “a growing crackdown on human rights and opposition and a deeply worrying pattern”.

Saied, for his part, has criticised what he describes as “politicians’ jostling for office”, saying those who previously boycotted parliamentary elections now wanted his job.

He has said he will not turn over power to those he considers non-patriots.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies