“Tunisia’s parliamentary election on Dec. 17 — the first since President Kais Saied’s power grab that reversed the course of Tunisia’s young democracy — has done everything but diffuse the deep-seated fissures plaguing society. Around 89 percent reportedly abstained from voting for a parliament that is now stripped of power, signaling deep disaffection and, with it, the death of the illusion that Saied’s political “project” could finally bring about “bread, freedom and dignity” to Tunisians.

“Saied was elected in 2019 advocating a form of “populism from above” that sought to pit elites against the people (who he claimed to represent). In July 2021, Saied put in motion his project by dismissing the government, suspending the top, independent judicial watchdog, and then dissolving parliament. He granted himself emergency executive powers on the grounds of “imminent danger,” an exceptional clause in the constitution, then extended these powers indefinitely. Thereafter, following an opaque consultation process, voters approved — with a low turnout of 30 percent — by referendum a new constitution that entrenched presidential powers and severely limited the prerogatives of parliament. Public opinion polls showed initially that Saied’s actions were supported by Tunisians who were frustrated by a decade of political ineffectiveness and policies that failed to address unemployment and poverty. …”

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