Saied dissolves Tunisia's municipal councils in fresh power grab

Saied dissolves Tunisia's municipal councils in fresh power grab
Kaid Saied has embarked on a chilling power grab since being made Tunisian president.
2 min read
09 March, 2023
President Saied has been accused of hoarding power at the top of government [Getty images]

Tunisia's "power grab" president, Kais Saied, has announced the dissolution of the country's municipal councils just months before new elections were due to take place.

The move is perceived as the latest extension of Saied's near autocratic powers, in a sustained chiseling away of Tunisia's democratic framework since he was made president in 2019.

"We are tabling a decree to dissolve the municipalities and replace them with new councils," Saied declared during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. 

While the Tunisian president promised the new bodies would still be elected, they will be bound by fresh regulations and limited in their autonomy. 

Saied had previously criticised some municipal councils for acting as a "state within the state", and claimed that many of the bodies were "not neutral". 

The Tunisian municipalities were last elected in 2018, before Kais Saied came to power, three of which came under the control of the opposition party Ennahda

Under the Tunisian constitution of 2014, municipal councils have significant powers - which were largely undone by Saied’s new controversial constitution.

"Unfortunately the president does not see the point in sharing authority," said Adnan Bouazide, head of the national board of municipalities, speaking to Mosaique FM, whose head was recently jailed.  

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Saied shut down the elected parliament in July 2021 and seized most powers, moving to rule by decree. He wrote a new constitution that was passed in a referendum with low turnout and boycotts last year, actions his foes have called a coup.

The president claims the moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, repeatedly calling his critics traitors and enemies of the state.

Last year he also took ultimate authority over the judiciary. 

Tunisia was seen as the only relative success story of the Arab Spring when it adopted democracy following its 2011 revolution that triggered uprisings across the region.

However, years of political paralysis and economic stagnation have left many Tunisians disillusioned and Saied was elected in 2019 as a political outsider vowing to remake the system. Tunisia remains gripped by high unemployment and a stagnant economy.