Name? Kais Saied
Westphalian identity? Tunisian
Why is he in the news? On Monday, Tunisian President Kais Saied held a constitutional referendum to extend presidential powers in Tunisia. Specifically, on the ballot was the removal of powers from the Parliament to form government or to appoint judges, giving these powers to the President. The referendum succeeded in favour of Saied, with 94.6% of ballots stating ‘yes’, however only a 30.5% turnout because the opposition boycotted it.
Why do we care? The referendum is more or less a continuation of Saied’s power grab, after invoking his emergency powers last year. As we said before, President Kais Saied has disregarded other governmental bodies in an attempt to further consolidate his powers in Tunisia. One of Saied’s reasons for calling the referendum was to solve the current economic crisis that is related to skyrocketing public debt. In a country where one of the top labour unions opposes IMF assistance, Saied has taken the route of freezing out his opponents in order to seek a $4B IMF loan.
Why should you care? As Tunisia is widely regarded as the Arab Spring’s most successful democratic transition, Saied’s actions are transitioning the country back.
With Saied taking much control over the country at the time of a gross economic hardship (war in Ukraine and Covid-19), you should care 6/10 about the timing of this constitutional referendum.
Who else cares? Egyptian President el-Sisi has recently supported strengthening bilateral economic and political relations with Tunisia. Furthermore, he explicitly supported Saied’s referendum. The two share an increasingly good relationship after Egypt supported Tunisia with medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Any further comments? Saied is also likely to struggle with a strong pushback from opposition parties in Tunisia due to the low threshold his referendum was voted upon. With only 30.5% of the population voting, Saied is bound to see his opposition challenge the legitimacy of his referendum.