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December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Record-low turnout in legislative elections increased President Saïed’s political isolation amid worsening economic and social situation.

Legislative elections saw record-low turnout, opposition urged Saïed to step down. Only 11,22% of voters cast ballots in legislative elections held 17 Dec. In response, main opposition coalition, National Salvation Front, 18 Dec said Saïed had no legitimacy and should quit office, called for mass protests to demand early presidential elections. Election commission in following days announced only 23 candidates had secured seat; remaining 131 seats to be decided in run-off elections expected early Feb.

UGTT hardened stance toward Saïed, IMF postponed decision on rescue package. In clearest challenge to Saïed to date, powerful labour union UGTT 3 Dec openly questioned electoral process, saying it had “no colour and taste” as result of new constitution; also denounced “lack of transparency” on reform program negotiated with International Monetary Fund (IMF). UGTT 26 Dec threatened street protests and sit-ins in rejection of 2023 austerity budget and 28 Dec announced two-day strike by transport workers in late Jan. In last-minute move, IMF postponed board meeting scheduled for 19 Dec on four-year $1.9bn rescue package for Tunisia, citing need to give govt more time to finalise reform program. Amid inflation nearing 10% and shortage of many food commodities, European Investment Bank around mid-Dec approved €220mn loan including €150mn in emergency food support. Algeria 1 Dec pledged $200mn low-interest loan and $100mn financial assistance to Tunisia.

In other important developments. Police around 19 Dec detained Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda VP, former PM Ali Larayedh, over terrorism allegations. An-Nahda immediately denounced political attack to cover “failure” of polls, and party supporters 23 Dec protested in front of justice ministry in capital Tunis to demand Larayedh’s release.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Despite opposition boycott and amid shrinking space for dissent, authorities proceeded apace with plans to hold legislative elections in December.

Electoral process went on despite opposition boycott. Electoral commission 3 Nov announced 1,058 candidates, including 936 men and 122 women, cleared to run in legislative elections set for 17 Dec, with seven constituencies lacking any candidates. Electoral campaign launched 25 Nov.

Authorities continued to use court and other means to stifle dissent. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi 10 Nov appeared before court in Sousse city as part of investigation into money-laundering and incitement to violence; anti-terror judge in capital Tunis 28 Nov questioned him for second time over terrorism allegations. After Business News media outlet 10 Nov published article critical of PM Najla Bouden’s track record, Justice Minister Leila Jaffel next day sued Business News chief editor Nizar Bahloul under new decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online. Afek Tounes opposition party leader Fadel Abdel Kefi said police 16 Nov prevented him from leaving country without any judicial warrant; interior ministry official same day said Tunis court had issued judicial decision to prevent Kefi from travelling abroad on unclear basis. In Zarzis town, security forces 18 Nov used tear gas to disperse demonstrators demanding renewed search for 18 Tunisian migrants who went missing in Mediterranean Sea in Sept.

Partners stepped up budget support to Tunisia amid ongoing economic crisis. Notably, European Union 13 Nov granted additional €100mn and France 19 Nov announced €200mn loan. Moves come as International Monetary Fund is expected to greenlight $1.9bn four-year program in Dec.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed’s plan to hold parliamentary elections in December continued to face opposition, including boycott calls, and govt reached preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund amid ever-worsening economic and fiscal crisis.

Opposition protests gathered thousands and more parties announced election boycott. Three political parties including Al Massar (Social Democratic Path) 3 Oct announced they will join group of at least 13 other parties boycotting parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 Dec. Thousands 15 Oct joined opposition coalition National Salvation Front protest in Tunis demanding Saïed’s resignation and accountability for economic crisis; anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party same day held parallel anti-govt demonstration. Meanwhile, Saïed 7 Oct said he may amend electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections to avoid attempts by would-be candidates to buy sponsorship – each candidate must gather 400 signatures of registered voters. Electoral commission President Farouk Bouasker 20 Oct ruled out any amendment, citing lack of time.

Tensions persisted within interior ministry. Military court in Sfax city 6 Oct ordered arrest of police trade union sec gen, Nabil Ayari, following clashes between police unionists and other security forces in Sept; Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has been in conflict with police unionists since August over control of security apparatus.

Govt and IMF reached preliminary agreement for loan conditioned on painful reforms. Govt around 15 Oct reached preliminary agreement with International Monetary Fund (IMF) over $1.9bn rescue package; approval by IMF’s executive board conditioned on reforms, including decrease of energy subsidies and privatisation of some state-owned companies by year’s end. Meanwhile, economic and fiscal crisis hit new low as gas stations around 8 Oct began running out of fuel, sparking long queues at petrol stations.

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