Tunisian Opposition Boycotts Elections Over Saied’s ‘Coup'
The National Salvation Front, a Tunisian electoral alliance formed in opposition to President Kais Saied, announced on Thursday that it intended to boycott the country’s December elections.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), a Tunisian electoral alliance formed in opposition to President Kais Saied and his extrajudicial seizure of power in mid-2021, announced on Thursday that it intended to boycott the country’s new parliamentary elections in December, claiming that they would be held under unfair conditions and administered by an electoral commission biased in favor of Saied and his party.
“The National Salvation Front has definitively decided to boycott the upcoming elections,” Ahmed Nejib Cheddi, the group’s leader, claimed on Thursday, according to Al Jazeera. “The elections will be held under the supervision of a body that is not neutral and is loyal to the ruling authority.”
The upcoming December elections were originally scheduled by Saied in July 2021, after he unilaterally dismissed the country’s parliament and prime minister after several years of political deadlock. Saied’s dismissal—and subsequent concentration of all executive power into his own hands—was widely described as a coup d’etat outside of Tunisia. Members of the dismissed parliament, particularly those affiliated with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, have continued to oppose the president’s actions in the year since the incident. In late May, Ennahda and four other parties—the Heart of Tunisia party, the Dignity Coalition, the Movement party, and the Al-Amal party—combined to form the National Salvation Front.
Despite political opposition from former NSF lawmakers and public protests, Saied has maintained near-total power within Tunisia and has reshaped the country’s institutions, eliminating several checks and balances and empowering his office over the parliament. A series of proposed changes to Tunisia’s constitution by the president passed overwhelmingly in a referendum in late July, with 94 percent of voters in favor but with low turnout due to an opposition boycott.
In his remarks on Thursday, Cheddi sharply criticized the country’s new electoral law, which he characterized as part of a “coup against constitutional legitimacy.”
Saied, a former constitutional law professor, was first elected to the Tunisian presidency in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, tapping into popular frustrations over parliamentary deadlock. Repeated clashes with the parliament marked the president’s first years in power. Although the dismissal in July 2021 was controversial, it initially attracted many supporters who viewed Saied’s actions as necessary to break the country’s long-standing political deadlock and enact reforms. Over the past year, however, Tunisia’s economy has declined, leading to an uptick in popular discontent.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.