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Tunisia: president to dissolve municipal councils, months before local elections

March 9, 2023 at 2:41 pm

Tunisian President Kais Saied (C) chairs a meeting of the National Security Council at Carthage Palace in Tunisia [Tunisian Presidency / Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian President Kais Saied said late on Wednesday that he will dissolve municipal councils, months before they are due to be elected, further dismantling the layers of government developed after the 2011 revolution that brought democracy to the North African country, Reuters has reported.

“We will discuss a decree to dissolve municipalities and replace them by special councils,” said the president in a video of a cabinet meeting that was posted online. The new councils will also be elected, but under new rules that Saied will write. He has previously called the existing councils “states within a state” and said that they were “not neutral”.

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In the 2018 local elections, a third of municipal councils came under the control of Ennahda, an Islamist party that has been Saied’s most vocal critic.

Elected municipal councils were introduced after the 2014 constitution called for decentralisation. Saied replaced that constitution with one that he wrote himself and passed last year in a referendum with a low turnout.

“Unfortunately, the head of state is not convinced by decentralisation,” the head of the National Federation of Municipalities, Adnen Bouassida, told Mosaique FM radio.

The elected municipal councils had struggled to make much of an impact in many areas of Tunisia, functioning with small budgets. Most political parties boycotted elections in December and January for a new, mostly powerless, parliament, meaning the local councils were the last effective branch of government where they retained a presence.

Saied has concentrated nearly all powers in the presidency since he suddenly shut down the elected parliament in July 2021 and moved to rule by decree. That and other “emergency measures” that he has imposed on Tunisia have been described by opposition parties as an undemocratic “coup against the constitution”.

The president has rejected that accusation, saying that his moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of chaos at the hands of a corrupt, self-serving political elite.

Last month, the authorities in Tunis detained leading critics of Saied and opposition figures, including prominent Ennahda members, whom the president labelled as criminals, traitors and terrorists in the first significant crackdown on dissent against his rule.

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