Tunisia heading for a “new republic”, will it solve the country’s economic depression?

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied. (Photo: Shutterstock)

TUNIS — Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.اضافة اعلان

On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, side-lining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to a referendum in July but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.

On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution. Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary, and on national dialogue.

Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.

Seeking a bailout

As well as a political deadlock, Tunisia has been facing a grinding economic downturn. As a result, Tunisia has no choice but to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as it battles a surging budget deficit made worse by the war in Ukraine, Marouane Abbassi, Tunisia’s central bank governor said Friday.

As the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has sent global commodities prices spiraling, the import-dependent North African country has adjusted its budget deficit projections from 6.7 percent to 9.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product, Abassi told a conference in the coastal business hub of Sfax. To prevent these costs from hitting the poorest households in a country where the minimum monthly wage is equivalent to just 125 euros ($130), the Tunisian state subsidises bread and fuel.

But the country is mired in debt equal to almost 100 percent of GDP after years of feeble growth, and is no longer able to borrow on global capital markets. A new IMF deal — the third in a decade — is therefore “indispensable” for Tunisia, Abassi said.

The Ukraine war has hiked grain prices in a country where bread is a vital part of the diet and where historic hikes on the price of a loaf have sparked riots.

In exchange for a bailout of around $4 billion, the IMF has called for far-reaching changes including a freeze on the public sector wage bill, subsidy reforms, and a restructuring of publicly owned companies.

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