Many regional analysts in the Maghreb region are struggling to understand how Tunisia can carry out a legitimate election schedule for December 17th, following the latest blow to its credibility by the country’s leading journalist union, according to Reuters.
Tunisia’s main journalists union on December 14th accused the national electoral commission of harassing media to silence critics of a parliamentary election amid a boycott of the vote by major parties.
The debate has thrust the issue of press freedoms won after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution to the forefront of a wider argument about the fate of the country’s democracy under President Kais Saied.
The election is the latest in a series of steps by Saied to remake Tunisian politics after he shut down the previous parliament last summer and moved to rule by decree – actions his critics called a coup.
Saied has defended his moves as legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of crisis.
The new parliament will have far less powers than the previous one under a constitution that Saied drafted this year and passed in July in a referendum that was also boycotted by the opposition and had low turnout.
The president has also taken ultimate authority over the previously independent electoral commission by appointing new members. Saied issued an electoral law this year and the commission was also put in charge of media.
The commission had previously won international plaudits for its handling of elections that were seen as free and fair. Regulation of the media was handled by a separate independent body.
The commission rejects accusations that it answers to the president and says it works independently.
A growing number of journalists have joined criticism of the commission, accusing it of serving the authorities and seeking to silence journalists with threats of prosecution.
“Attempts to harass critical voices of the electoral process were repeated by the Commission, which sent letters to draw the attention of the media following criticism of its independence,” the journalists union said.
An electoral commission spokesperson said that the correspondence addressed to the media was not a threat.
Media have complained about rules governing their coverage. Some journalists have also accused the commission of acting like the police and threatening them with prosecution because of their articles.