There seems to be no end in sight to the political crisis occurring in Tunisia, namely the almost total disconnect between the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, as well as the stalling of constitutional court appointments and complete formation of the government. It is a crisis that remains at an impasse despite the rare meetings held between the three leaders. Instead of these meetings opening up a path to rapprochement between them, they have only further highlighted this current state of discord. It has also led political and social parties to intervene and push for a national dialogue that everyone welcomes in principle, only for them to disagree over which parties should participate, as well as over the dialogue’s substance and mechanisms.
It is a crisis that seems constitutional in nature, since it stemmed from the nature of the political system under the 2014 constitution, which stipulated the creation of an amended parliamentary system. However, in reality, it represents nothing more than a search for serious, rather than consensus-based, solutions by the parties, as well as adopting a strategy for subjugating the other based on selective readings of the constitution’s texts.
During the constitutional experiment between 2015-2019, a climate of acceptable consensus had prevailed, even if only minimally. This came as a result of the ruling party (Nidaa Tounes) having secured the top three positions in the state. In spite of that, everyone accepted this trifecta rule, which came as a result of a national dialogue that led to first the ousting of the Ennahda Party from power, then a power sharing arrangement with it afterwards. This political situation came about from legislative and presidential elections that produced a landscape different from the one in place after the 2011 Constituent Assembly elections. Then, the phase led by the late President Beji Caid Essebsi proved that the problem was not in the political system, insofar as it was more procedural rather than structural, when new political balances were created that ended with the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections.
Today, the political and partisan landscape has changed. The coalitions are different, balance of power is nonexistent, and the political figures and their affiliations, aspirations, and views have all changed. The first signs of power struggles have emerged, thereby further intensifying tensions and obstructing the work of some institutions. A constitutional solution was needed to extricate the country from this crisis, one which the nation is paying for dearly in terms of its politics, economy, and security.
This political predicament may prompt some to consider a constitutional solution in the form of early elections. Many of the parties have threatened to resort to this option in the face of the failed attempts to oust the Speaker of the Assembly. They also are pushing the president towards using some articles of the constitution that permit him to dissolve the Assembly of the Representatives of the People and call for legislative elections. All of this comes alongside calls to enact the national dialogue initiative presented to the president by the Tunisian Labor Union (UTT), which was first thwarted by President Kais Saied, at least up until now.
All of these initiatives came against the backdrop of a noticeable change in the electoral landscape according to opinion polls, yet these surveys do not give any definitive indicators. Any elections during the current state of affairs may return the country to a similar situation in terms of the lack of a parliamentary majority able to definitively form a government. It would also not help in making a clear change in the popularity of presidential candidates: there is no need for coalitions that now do not seem ready or able to secure a real change in the general landscape. Thus, the current situation seems unfavorable for most of the parties to the current crisis. President Kais Saied may not even win in the coming elections, considering that the "populist belt" he relied upon in the 2019 elections has dissolved. The same goes for the "partisan belt" that he now relies upon in this weakly represented parliament, as several of his representatives may be called back if the elections were to occur soon.
The president’s own popularity has noticeably declined, though no charismatic figures able to cobble together different political factions have yet emerged who could replace him. This political personality could lead the next phase and head a reform movement to make improvements to the current system in the context of constitutional legality. Given the right conditions, this could happen in the coming months.
Organizing early elections requires consensus over a specific mechanism for the electoral process, first starting with a call from the presidency, followed by the approval of the main actors, and then implemented by the government. Or, it could come as the culmination of a national dialogue in which a majority of the political and socioeconomic parties participate and which is binding upon the government, parliament, and presidency. The latter is more likely if the proper supporting conditions are present. However, at the present moment, they are not, and this pathway is not yet viable.
Among the essential conditions for any successful future elections would be a change in the current election law that enables legislative elections to produce a majority able to form a government without having to resort to coalitions. This seems to be the next battle to take place under the parliament’s dome after the amendments made to the Constitutional Court Law are enacted. As the nation waits on this, the prime minister may, with parliament’s cooperation, successfully employ a "theory of necessity" in managing the coming phase, in his capacity as the chief head of the executive branch.