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Tunisia sets elections for October. The increasingly authoritarian president hasn’t said he’ll run

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s increasingly authoritarian leader has scheduled the next presidential election for October without saying whether he will seek a second term after five tumultuous years at the head of the North African nation once seen as a model of democracy for the Arab world.

President Kais Saied set Oct. 6 for the election in a decree issued late Tuesday, according to a statement from the presidency. Saied’s first term ends on Oct. 23.

The election will be voters’ first chance to evaluate Saied’s tenure amid an economic crisis and the drift into authoritarianism.

Saied ran in 2019 on a populist, anti-corruption platform that energized Tunisians disillusioned with party politics and economic stagnation following the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests that in 2011 toppled the country’s longtime dictator.

However, Saied reversed some of Tunisia’s democratic gains, rewriting the constitution to consolidate his power and jailing critics, including from the largest political parties. Analysts expect he will run for a second, five-year term given that the new constitution grants him full powers.

He also dissolved the parliament two years ago after lawmakers of the Ennahda opposition Islamist party held a virtual session seeking to annul his actions in 2021 to assume sweeping powers.

Saied argued at the time that the country was facing “imminent peril” because of protests and economic vows. He has governed the country by decree ever since.

More than 40 of Saied’s critics and political opponents have been jailed in the past year on various charges of conspiring against the country’s security, including the leader of Ennahda, the largest opposition party.

Earlier this year, its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, was sentenced to three years in prison on allegations that his party relied on foreign financing to bankroll its political campaigns in 2019. The sentence was added to Ghannouchi’s 15-month prison term that a different court handed down last year after he was found guilty of supporting terrorism and inciting hatred.

Tunisia’s main opposition coalition has said it won’t take part in the presidential election unless Saied’s political opponents are freed and judicial independence is restored. The National Salvation Front, a coalition of the main opposition parties that includes Ennahdha, has expressed concern that the election wouldn’t be fair

Several other political leaders have announced their candidacy, including the leader of the right-wing Free Destourian Party, Abir Moussi, who is in custody on suspicion of disturbing public order. Lotfi Mraïhi of the Republican Popular Union party, who unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 2019, is also running, although authorities have issued a warrant against for alleged money laundering.

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Surk contributed from Nice, France.

By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA and BARBARA SURK
Associated Press

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