Saied’s popularity slips as fears over Tunisia’s economy grow

Majority of Tunisians still back president but pessimism over economic recovery is rising

Tunisian President Kais Saied speaks during a visit to Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, in September. AP

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s popularity has fallen significantly since he sacked the government, froze Parliament and suspended parts of the constitution.

The slump in Mr Saied’s popularity — revealed in a poll of 1,000 respondents by Tunisia’s Emrhod Consulting — occurs as the country’s economy continues to slide.

Mr Saied, who announced that he would rule by decree on September 22nd and later named a Cabinet led by Tunisia’s first woman prime minister, Najla Bouden, has yet to unveil his plan to salvage the economy.

Tunisia is in the grip of an economic crisis caused by decades of corruption, clientelism and government inaction.

Some 600,000 Tunisians are believed to have fallen below the poverty line since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The monthly Political Barometer showed a 10 per cent fall in Mr Saied’s popularity since July 25. Public satisfaction with the president had fallen to 72 per cent in November.

Nabil Belaam, president of Emrhod Consulting, said Mr Saied’s falling popularity was tied to concerns over the economy.

“The big thing that concerns people is the economic situation — this accounts for the fall in satisfaction with Mr Saied as president,” he said.

Tunisians are increasingly sceptical that the economic situation will improve.

“The percentage of those who think that the economy is improving has fallen from 50 per cent in October to 42 per cent in the November Economic Index Poll and those who are pessimistic about the economy and think it is going from bad to worse rose from 35 per cent in October to 44 per cent in November,” Mr Belaam said.

The devaluation of Tunisia’s currency has sent inflation soaring to 6.3 per cent, data from the Tunisian National Institute for Statistics showed, hitting an already cash-strapped population hard with the prices of food and other goods increasing.

To date, no bailout loan or financing has been officially agreed upon with any donors, and Tunisia remains in a state of fiscal limbo.

Moody’s downgraded Tunisia’s credit rating in October, marking the country out as being at high risk of defaulting on much-needed loans.

Mr Saied also appears to be losing support from the powerful general workers union, the UGTT, after he dissolved the Ministry of Local Affairs, bringing democratically elected municipalities under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

UGTT General Secretary Noureddine Tabboubi was reported to have said he was against Mr Saied’s programme of government by local councils, stating “there is no political life without parties, without democracy and without the ballot box".

Despite the fall in popularity, Mr Belaam said the majority of Tunisians would still vote for Mr Saied.

The poll showed that 79 per cent would vote for him, with the leader of the right-leaning Free Popular Destourian party (PDL) the next most popular, with only five per cent.

Updated: December 2nd 2021, 5:19 PM