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Tunisia: Independent press barred as parliament elects speaker in first session

Tunisia's opposition says it will not recognise new parliament, which has been largely stripped of its powers by President Saied
In July 2021 Kais Saied suspended parliament and dismissed the prime minister.
In July 2021 Kais Saied suspended parliament and dismissed the prime minister (AFP/File photo)

Independent and foreign members of the press were barred on Monday from attending the first session of Tunisia's new parliament, which has also not been recognised by the country's main opposition coalition.

Journalists protested against their exclusion from the parliamentary session, gathering at the entrance of parliament and chanting: "Lawmakers it is a shame. The press is under siege".

"It is a scandal and a serious violation of press freedom. It harms the image of Tunisia and attacks the citizen's right to a free and pluralistic media," Amira Mohamed, vice president of the Journalists Syndicate, told Reuters.

Officials told reporters that only state television and radio and the state news agency were allowed to cover the event, making it the first time since Tunisia's 2011 revolution that independent journalists were not allowed to attend the opening session of parliament.

MP Fatma Mseddi said the decision to bar private news agencies and foreign journalists had been taken to avoid “disorder” and the conveyance of an “inappropriate image”, according to the TAP news agency.

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The legislative body, which has been largely stripped of its powers by President Kais Saied, elected as speaker Ibrahim Bouderbala, the former president of the Bar Association. Bouderbala is a staunch supporter of Saied.

In July 2021, Saied, who won the presidential election in 2019 as an independent candidate, suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister and assumed vast executive powers, according to a plan revealed by Middle East Eye two months earlier.

Two months later, he declared that he would rule by decree, bypassing the powers granted to him in the constitution.

He then moved in on the country's judiciary, the independent election body, and the anti-corruption authority, effectively stripping all three of their powers and limiting the system of checks and balances introduced by the post-revolution 2014 constitution. 

Exactly a year after his power grab, Saied pushed through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

A new parliament was voted in December last year with just 11 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, the lowest voter turnout in the country's history.

Saied has said his actions were legal and needed to save Tunisia from years of crisis.

As most parties boycotted the election and candidates were listed on ballot papers without party affiliation, most of the new parliament members are political independents.

The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, in a statement on Monday said it would not recognise the new parliament.

MP Saleh Mbarki, who chaired the opening session, said: "Our duties as people's representatives is to work in partnership with the executive authority for the unity of the state."

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