The newly elected Tunisian parliament convened on Monday and voted for Ibrahim Bouderbela as its Speaker, succeeding Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, whose party had held the majority in the previous parliament.
Mr Bouderbela, a former dean of the Tunisian Lawyers' Bar and member of President Kais Saied's constitutional drafting committee, had previously announced he would be working to form a "pro July 25" parliamentary block once the House of Representative begins its work.
Monday’s session marks the first parliamentary activity since the President suspended the previous parliament in July 2021 before dissolving it last March.
Tunisia's main opposition coalition has declared it will not recognise the new parliament, the members of which were chosen in December and January in elections boycotted by the President's opponents and ignored by much of the public. Just 11 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Only journalists from state broadcasters and the official state news agency were allowed inside the parliament for the opening session, during which dozens of reporters protested outside.
Newly elected MP Fatma Mseddi told TAP state news agency that the decision to ban local and foreign media correspondents from attending Monday’s session came after requests from MPs, including herself.
The decision comes with the aim of “avoiding confusion and perhaps conveying an inappropriate image for the parliament,” Ms Mseddi said.
She said an Internal Affairs Commission would soon be formed to oversee and regulate the relationship between parliament and the media, as well as the relationship with civil society organisations.
Meanwhile, other MPs expressed their rejection of the media ban and demanded the administration of the House of Representatives to backtrack on its decision and enable both local and international press to freely cover the parliamentary activities.
The session comes amid a growing crackdown on opposition, independent media outlets and other critical voices of Mr Saied.
The most recent crackdown also targeted sub-Saharan African migrants in the country, as Mr Saied said "urgent measures" were needed to counter "illegal" migration flow instigating a widespread racially motivated campaign against them.
Mr Saied suspended the previous parliament in July 2021, claiming it was an effort to save the country.
Since then, he has been ruling through presidential decrees.
He has changed the country’s constitution through a referendum that had only a 30 per cent participation rate and dissolved most of the country’s elected bodies, including municipal councils.
Parties boycott elections
The new legislature has less power than its predecessor, according to the new constitution.
It is meant to have 161 members, compared with 217 in the previous parliament. But only 154 candidates were elected in the two-round legislative ballot, due to vacancies in seven electoral constituencies designated for Tunisians living abroad, where no candidates presented themselves for election, reflecting widespread disillusionment with the political system.
Most political parties boycotted the elections, with the view that the electoral process initiated by Mr Saied was designed to further cement his one-man rule in the country.
The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said on Sunday it does not recognise the new parliament “resulting from an illegitimate constitution and elections that were boycotted by a large majority”.