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Kais Saied said political parties were not being excluded and that accusations constituted “lies and fabrications.” Image Credit: REUTERS

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president issued an electoral law on Thursday reducing, but not ending, the role of political parties in a reformed parliament that will have fewer powers under a constitution passed in July.

Under the new law, voters will choose candidates in the December 17 election individually rather than by selecting a single party list - a switch that will weaken the influence of parties.

The unilateral changes are the latest that President Kais Saied has made to Tunisia’s political system since he seized most powers last summer in a move his foes called an anti-democratic coup to establish one-man rule.

“We are passing through a new stage in the history of Tunisia towards the sovereignty of the people after previous sham elections,” said Saied during a cabinet meeting.

He said political parties were not being excluded and that accusations constituted “lies and fabrications.” The main parties across Tunisia’s political spectrum have already rejected the law, saying they will boycott any elections under Saied’s new constitution, which has greatly expanded his powers and removed most checks on his actions.

The constitution was passed overwhelmingly in a referendum in which official figures showed only 30 per cent of voters took part - though opposition parties have accused the authorities of inflating even that low rate of participation.

The previous democratic constitution from 2014 enshrined a major role for parliament, giving it the main responsibility for forming governments, while the president had less direct power.

Saied’s new constitution has instead brought the government directly under the president, while reducing the influence of a new two-chamber parliament.

The new lower chamber will only have 161 members, compared to the 217 previously. Details of the second chamber, including how its members will be elected, have not yet been issued.

The United States has repeatedly voiced concern at what it sees as democratic backsliding under Saied, a political independent who worked as a constitutional law lecturer before running for president in 2019.

He has rejected the criticism, calling it unacceptable interference in domestic Tunisian affairs, and has denied his actions constitute a coup or that he will become a dictator.