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Tunisia: Dispute over amendment of election law months before elections

A man casts his vote at a polling station during Tunisian local elections, which was held first time after 2011 Arab Spring revolution, in Ben Arous, Tunisia on May 06, 2018. ( Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency )
A man casts his vote at a polling station during Tunisian local election in Ben Arous, Tunisia on 6 May 2018 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Several Tunisian political parties have opposed a proposal to amend the election law a few months before the legislative and presidential elections, scheduled for October and November 2019.

The proposals made by the National Alliance bloc, representing the newly formed Tahya Tounis party which is led by Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, included banning the nomination of heads of associations and owners of TV channels.

The proposed amendment also included setting the electoral threshold to 5 per cent, in an attempt to avoid scattered political blocs within the People’s Assembly as more than 210 parties are currently active in the country.

Most opposition parties in the Parliament, especially leftist and nationalist parties, objected to this particular proposal because it would “strike,” as justified, political diversity in Parliament and reduce the chances of many parties to win seats in the legislative elections.

The proposed amendments were supported by Ennahda Movement’s parliamentary bloc, a partner in the government coalition and holder of the majority of seats in the People’s Assembly. However, Ennahda party called for a possible consensus on a specific 3 per cent threshold with the identification of regulatory measures for political discourse during the election campaigns to reduce attempts to influence and incite citizens psychologically.

The National Alliance and Ennahda sought to guarantee a majority of the votes before passing to the voting process and approving the amendments.

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The potential presidential candidate Nabil Al-Qarwi, a businessman and owner of a media group, said that these proposed amendments are designated to hinder his ambition to win the presidency.

Al-Qarwi came first in Sigma Conseil’s latest poll on the presidential and legislative elections. The poll’s surprising results, issued this week, were described by Le Maghreb newspaper as an electoral earthquake.

Al-Qarwi’s media office issued a statement denouncing the proposal and called for its withdrawal.

The statement warned of “selective and excluding attempts behind the amendment, especially regarding the conditions for candidacy, even though the electoral process has started.” It added that the current intentions to amend the election law are “a dangerous sign of the return of dictatorship and retreat from the electoral process.”

The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), a politically influential organisation in the country, opposed the proposal to amend the election law and called for postponing them until the end of this year’s elections.

The UGTT indicated in a statement today that “the desire to amend the election law during this delicate period would exacerbate political tension, poison the election’s climate and spoil the entire electoral process.”

The UGTT expressed “concerns over attempts to use the amendment of the election law to sabotage the coming elections,” stressing that “insisting on amending specific chapters of the law in a selective fashion may hide specific motives and electoral interests.”

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