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2019: a tough year for Tunisia?

Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tunisia is to hold parliamentary and presidential elections towards the end of 2019. The elections come at a very difficult time; some observers fear that Tunisia’s experiment with democracy is under threat.

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A power sharing agreement was negotiated between Nidaa Tounes, the president’s secularist party, and centrist Islamists Ennahda in 2014, providing for a coalition government and a degree of consensus on policy.

In the last year or two that consensus has broken down as powerful individuals in the elite have been manoeuvring for personal advantage. President Essebsi put his son at the head of his party and tried to force the Prime Minister out, but several Nidaa MPs subsequently left it. Ennahda, meanwhile, shifted its support to Prime Minister Chahed, depriving Nidaa Tounes of its majority in parliament.

The end of the power-sharing agreement and splits in Nidaa Tounes has made it more difficult to pass legislation and carry out reforms. In May 2018, Ennahda strengthened its position further with a strong performance in elections to local and regional councils, which are being empowered as part of a decentralisation policy.

Economic problems for Tunisians have been mounting. Unemployment, particularly among young people, is high and inflation has been cutting purchasing power, while the IMF has been imposing austerity policies on the government in exchange for loans to keep the government going. International economic forecasts suggest that that the economy will continue on a gradually strengthening trend.

The biggest union, the UGTT, has called nationwide strikes and persuaded the government to back off a public sector pay freeze.

Institutions such as the Constitutional Court and the Truth and Dignity Commission could do a lot to ensure that democratic rules are not undermined in the increased atmosphere of infighting.

Tunisians are largely dissatisfied with their economic situation, corruption and the performance of politicians. Meanwhile threats to stability from outside the country and within have not gone away.

Some observers are concerned that instability, infighting and citizen dissatisfaction in the run-up to this year’s planned elections could threaten Tunisia’s fledging democratic project.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8528

Author: Ben Smith

Topics: Africa, Middle East

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