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Tunisian parliamentary election intended to give out ‘an image of democracy’: Commentator

Tunisian demonstrators carry placards during a protest in central Tunis against their president on January 14, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

The Tunisian parliamentary election, given its record low turnout, is an “orchestrated show” aiming to emanate “an image of democracy,” says a political commentator.

The parliamentary election “was simply an orchestrated show designed to try to give this image of democracy rather than actually implementing democracy,” Sami Hamdi, the editor-in-chief of the International Interest, told Press TV’s Africa Today broadcast on Monday.

He made the remarks in a reference to Tunisia’s December 17 election with a participation rate of 8.8%.

Hamdi maintained that the Tunisians knew the election will not be “free and fair” and that it was a way for President Kais Saied “to simply try to close the chapter on the parliament that he suspended and to essentially offer an avenue for international recognition of his toppling of the constitution and the suspension of parliament.”

“[Tunisians] believe that irrespective of whether they voted or not, it would not make any impact whatsoever,” he added.

President Saied, a former law professor, was elected in 2019 amid public anger against the political class. On July 25, 2021, he sacked the government, froze the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, and seized wide-ranging powers.

He later gave himself powers to rule and legislate by decree and seized control over the judiciary in what rivals saw as further blows to democracy in the birthplace of the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings.

While the Tunisian President insists that his measures were meant to save the country from a civil war, critics have accused him of orchestrating a coup.

“The whole purpose of the elections, in Saied’s eyes, was to offer an avenue for the international community to recognize his seizure of power and recognize his new authority,” he said, adding that despite the low turnout, the election to some extent serves to ensure the European Union and the US that Tunisia is taking a step toward restoring the democratic process.

Hamdi argued that Saied, in spite of what he claims, has not been taking the decision in the interest of the Tunisians but for himself to seize power and “dominate the political scene.”

From day one, Hamdi said, Saied made it absolutely clear that he wanted to rule the country directly, and parliament essentially does not give many powers to the president.

“This frustrated Saied and so he was in an open wrestling match with the parliament from day one by trying to appoint his own prime ministers while parliament was trying to appoint their own prime ministers,” he added.

Pointing to Tunisia’s severe economic crisis, which has spawned frequent shortages of basic amenities, Hamdi complained that there are no policies that have brought about any particular change in the status quo in Tunisia.

Saied is aware of the economic crisis; therefore, he had declared a state of emergency in the country to avoid outbursts of protests, he said.

The nationwide state of emergency was declared in Tunisia on November 24, 2015, after an attack in the capital, Tunis, which killed 12 presidential guards.

Last February, Saied extended the state of emergency until the end of the year and then until 30 January for the second time.

“He seeks to maintain control and avoid any outburst of protests or any outburst of discontent that might threaten his rule or undermine his rule, so the state of emergency is primarily about preserving Saied power amid this very difficult situation,” Hamdi said.

Increasing arrays of critics are calling on Saied to step down, saying he has moved the country down a dangerous path back toward autocracy.

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