Tunisian president takes control of electoral commission

TUNIS, April 22 (Reuters) – Tunisia’s president on Friday took control of the country’s electoral commission, saying he would replace most of its members in a move that will cement his one-man rule and cast doubt on electoral integrity.

The head of the commission, Nabil Baffoun, told Reuters that President Kais Saied’s decree dealt a blow to the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution in the country and meant the body was no longer independent.

“It became the president’s commission,” he said.

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President Kais Saied has already removed parliament and taken control of the judiciary after assuming executive power last summer and saying he could rule by decree in moves his opponents denounce as a coup. State.

Saied, who says his actions were both legal and necessary to save Tunisia from a crisis, is rewriting the democratic constitution introduced after the 2011 revolution and says he will put it to a referendum in July.

Tunisia’s largest political party, the Islamist Ennahda, which has opposed Saied’s moves since last summer, said it would hold consultations with other parties on how to respond.

“Any election will lose all credibility with a body appointed by the president,” said Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of the parliament Saied said he was disbanding earlier this month.

In his executive order on Friday, Saied said he would select three of the nine existing members of the electoral commission to remain, sitting on a new seven-member panel with three judges and an information technology specialist. He himself would appoint the head of the commission.

The judges would be chosen by the supreme judicial council, a body he also unilaterally replaced this year in a move seen as undermining the independence of the judiciary.

The head of the commission, Baffoun, had angered Saied by criticizing his plan to hold a referendum and subsequent parliamentary elections, saying such votes could only take place within the framework of the existing constitution.

This week, referring to expected announcements from Saied, Baffoun said the president was not authorized to change the composition of the electoral commission or rewrite electoral laws by decree.

Although Saied’s takeover angered most of Tunisia’s political establishment, she was initially very popular in a country where many people were frustrated by economic stagnation and government paralysis.

However, while Saied has focused on restructuring Tunisia’s politics, a looming economic crisis threatens to unravel his plans, as the government struggles to finance its 2022 deficit and pay down its debts.

Talks between Tunisian negotiators and the International Monetary Fund for a bailout resumed in the United States this week.

Tunisia’s major Western donors have urged Saied to return to a democratic and constitutional path.

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Reporting by Tarek Amara; Written by Angus McDowall; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Kirsten Donovan and Jonathan Oatis

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