Tunisia’s president to dissolve local authorities in latest power grab
Tunisia’s authoritarian president said he would dismantle the country’s elected local authorities in a further dismantling of democratic institutions, just as doubts over a critical $1.9 billion loan deal with the IMF deepened the economic crisis.
Kais Saied has reshaped the North African country’s political system to concentrate authority in his hands since a seizure of power in 2021, when he suspended parliament and the democratic constitution drafted after the 2011 uprising against the dictatorship.
A new charter, drafted by Saied, was adopted after a referendum last year when less than a third of the electorate cast a vote. This was followed that year by the election of a new parliament with weakened authority under new rules he had introduced.
“We will discuss a decree to dissolve congregations and replace them with special councils,” Kais said in a video message. A third of Tunisian local councils are controlled by the moderate Islamist Nahda party, which was the largest parliamentary bloc before the chamber was suspended.
In addition to attacks on institutions, Saied has escalated his crackdown on alleged opponents in recent weeks with a series of arrests of politicians, activists, businessmen and the head of an independent radio station. This has sparked a series of street protests in the capital, Tunis.
Remarks by Saied about migrants in the country, which were widely seen as racist, led the World Bank to suspend talks with Tunisia this week.
Saied has claimed a conspiracy to settle sub-Saharan Africans in the country and to distance it from its Arab and Islamic ties. His words sparked violent attacks on migrants in Tunisia and were reprimanded by the African Union.
“The safety and inclusion of migrants and minorities is part of our institution’s core values of inclusion, respect and anti-racism in all forms and forms,” the World Bank said after the talks paused.
Tunisia has slipped deeper into economic crisis while reforms needed to secure the IMF loan deal have been delayed. Saied has given lukewarm support to the deal, saying in December the lender had no solutions to Tunisia’s problems despite shortages of key imports such as oil and sugar.
Tunisian bonds fell further this week, with their dollar bond maturing in 2025 trading at 64 cents on the dollar Thursday after starting the month at 68 cents on the dollar.
“Bonds were sold amid fears of further delays in the IMF’s schedule following recent statements from development partners that Tunisia relies on for funding,” said Alia Moubayed, managing director of fixed income strategies at investment bank Jefferies.
“Additionally, institutional investors are surprised at the discrepancy between the technocratic government’s progress on key reforms required for the IMF program; and the rhetoric of the President making the final policy decision,” she added.
Taoufik Charfeddine, Saied’s Home Secretary, this week launched a furious and wide-ranging tirade against the President’s critics. “Journalists are mercenaries and traitors. . . Businessmen, trade unionists etc [political] Parties have sold the country and formed an alliance against the Tunisian people. . . they are traitors,’ he said.