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Protests erupt in Tunisia ahead of elections this week

A week before the Dec. 17 elections, Tunisians held a march in the capital to protest against the upcoming vote.
Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups march through the streets of downtown Tunis, Tunisia, Dec. 10, 2022.

TUNIS, Tunisia — Hundreds of protesters rallied in central Tunis over the weekend, coinciding with International Human Rights Day, to demonstrate against the holding of the parliamentary polls scheduled for Saturday.

The National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition parties including the moderate Islamist Ennahda movement, organized the demonstration to demand the return of what they refer to as the constitutional process and President Kais Saied's resignation.

Supporters of Tunisian opposition groups marched through the streets of downtown Tunis and headed to Habib Bourguiba Avenue, chanting slogans — “Saied, get out,” “The coup will fall” and “Freedoms, freedoms, the police state is finished” — and holding banners that read “Leave,” calling for the president’s fall. Some placards highlighted the rise of the country’s inflation rate, which jumped to 9.8% in November, and increasing unemployment.

Speakers at the protest including senior politicians from parties opposing the head of state urged a boycott of the planned election perceived as illegitimate.

Ahmed Najib Chebbi, who heads the National Salvation Front, told TAP news agency, “President Saied, who once claimed to have popular legitimacy, is now isolated within his country.”

Critics of Saied accuse him of staging an undemocratic coup and taking Tunisia back to an autocracy since he sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament on July 25, 2021, to then rule by decree. This year, he pushed through a new constitution that gives the presidency full executive power and weakens the legislative branch, which was passed through a referendum in July with a low turnout.

In September, he unilaterally issued amendments to the 2014 electoral law, which reduces the role of political parties in parliament whereby voters will now choose candidates individually instead of selecting lists from parties.

The exceptional moves angered most political parties that had already announced their plan to boycott the approaching elections for a new parliament that will have fewer powers, seen as one further step in the establishment of Saied’s hyper-presidential system.

Rally participants claimed that through the December polls the Tunisian leader intends to give “a supposed legitimacy to the coup.”

“I’m against these fake elections,” Chairi Abdel Majid, a retired engineer, told Al-Monitor while marching with other demonstrators. “Saied’s regime doesn’t have legitimacy at home and can’t be approved abroad.”

He said, “Maybe he can get rid of political parties, but he can’t get rid of the free Tunisian people."

The retired man, who presented himself as a nonpartisan citizen, complained about the worsening social and economic conditions facing the country deeming the chief of state “incapable” of managing the situation.

Tunisians have grown increasingly frustrated over political paralysis and a long-running economic crisis coupled with rising food prices and shortages of essential subsidized goods.

“I’m here to demand the departure of Kais Saied and the fall of his system,” said Resgui, an automotive technician who was on his way to Bourguiba Avenue. “We will continue our path until he steps down,” he told Al-Monitor on condition his last name would not be used.

The protester, a former supporter of Ennahda, which was the largest party in the now-dissolved parliament and the Islamist Dignity Coalition, voted for Saied in the 2019 presidential elections. Today, he feels betrayed and is not aligned with any party. Resgui plans to stay away from the upcoming controversial vote that he defined as “an ill-directed play,” through which, in his view, the president will seek international approval.

Standing by a rallying crowd on the central thoroughfare of Tunis, Asma, a partisan of Ennahda and master’s student in political science, who did not give her last name, wholly rejected the process started by the Tunisian ruler last year. “Kais Saied ignores everyone, he must go so that his process stops,” she told Al-Monitor.

Asma denounced the reversal of the democratic gains made and the rights and freedoms won since the 2011 revolution that ousted long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Saied is a danger for Tunisia, the opposition won’t recede. There’s no going back,” she uttered vowing not to participate in what she called an “electoral masquerade."

A separate rally called by five Tunisian political parties — Democratic Current, Workers' Party, Republican party, Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties and Democratic Modernist Pole — that had been set for the same day was postponed. Although reasons were not specified, several partisans of the five parties said on social media that they didn't want to be mixed up with other parties supporting Ennahda.

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