Blinken stresses importance of Tunisia elections in meeting with President Saied

Tunisian president met US Secretary of State on the sidelines of Washington's Africa Leaders Summit

Tunisia's President Kais Saied, centre, arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Monday to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit. AFP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasised the importance of this weekend's Tunisian parliamentary elections in a meeting with President Kais Saied in Washington on Wednesday.

Tunisians head to the polls on Saturday for the the first legislative elections since Mr Saied suspended, then later dissolved, parliament.

"Secretary Blinken emphasised the importance of free and fair December 17 parliamentary elections, as well as inclusive reforms to strengthen democratic checks and balances and the protection of fundamental freedoms," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The elections will also be the first since the constitutional referendum took place on July 25 and after Mr Saied issued new electoral regulations on September 15.

But most political parties are boycotting Saturday's vote, and with an absence of campaigning around the country, observers are already predicting that the elections will be a failure.

I had no other alternative but to save the Tunisian nation
Tunisian President Kais Saied

Mr Saied said that the summit represented "a good opportunity to talk about the authenticity of the bonds" between the US and Tunisia.

He defended his decision to freeze parliament.

"Why? Because the country was on the brink of civil war all over the country, so I had no other alternative but to save the Tunisian nation from undertaking any nasty action," Mr Saied said.

Mr Blinken repeated America's "deep commitment to Tunisian democracy and to supporting the aspirations of the Tunisian people for a democratic and prosperous future", Mr Price said.

Mr Saied and Mr Blinken met while Washington hosts the Africa Leaders Summit, with 49 African heads of state in town for multilateral meetings, panel talks and "deliverables" promised by the White House on building partnership with the continent.

US President Joe Biden gave the summit's first big announcement on Wednesday, just after the Saied-Blinken meeting.

Mr Biden announced in a keynote address that the US was signing a preliminary agreement with the new African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, promising "new opportunities for trade and investment between countries".

"This is an enormous opportunity for Africa's future and the United States wants to help make those opportunities real," he said.

Mr Saied has met with several American leaders in Washington.

Joined by his wife Ichraf Saied, the embattled Tunisian president attended a dinner party on Tuesday night hosted by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in honour of African heads of state and their wives.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 8:19 PM