On Wednesday, Tunisian President Kais Saied announced that he will rule by order and overlook parts of the constitution as he plans to transform the political system, provoking instant resistance from opponents. Saied had been nearly in total power since July 25 when he dismissed the prime minister, suspended the parliament and seized executive power, calling a national emergency in a move his opponents called a coup.
His intrusion has weakened the democratic earnings of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that ended dictatorial rule and prompted the Arab Spring, despite Saied’s vows to sustain the liberties won a decade ago. As weeks passed, he came under mounting pressure from Tunisian political members and Western contributors to nominate a prime minister and demonstrate how he aims to move past the crisis.
On Wednesday, the latest measures declared to exceed the steps he took in July, inscribing into the official gazette laws that change Tunisia’s political system to give the president almost limitless authority. Regulations published in the official gazette enable him to issue “legislative texts” by order, designate the Cabinet and set its policy objective and fundamental decisions without intrusion.
The elected parliament, which he dissolved in July using a profoundly controversial interpretation of the constitution, will remain frozen, and its members will stop receiving their salaries. They will still be removed of immunity from prosecution.
Saied did not set any deadline on his capture of power but said he would designate a committee to help design amendments to the 2014 constitution and authorise “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign”.
The presidency said that in the meantime, only the preamble to the current constitution and any conditions that do not repudiate the executive and legislative powers he has taken would remain in force.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party leader, the biggest in the profoundly fragmented parliament and a member of progressive governing factions, instantly denied Saied’s announcements. Rached Ghannouchi said the announcement meant eliminating the constitution and that Ennahda, which had already reported Saied’s July 25 invasion a coup, would not allow that.
A senior official in the heart of Tunisia, the second-largest party in parliament, blamed Saied for carrying out a “premeditated coup.” “We call for a national alignment against the coup,” the official, Osama al-Khalifi, said on Twitter. This month an adviser of Saied told Reuters that Saied was preparing to suspend the constitution and offer a new version via a public choice, provoking a backlash from labour unions and political parties.
Saied has rejected having authoritarian goals, asserts his moves are constitutional and has pledged to sustain the rights of Tunisians. His broadly popular invasion came after years of economic stagnancy and political insensibility, complicated by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and a day of intense protests. However, as the weeks passed, many Tunisians grew disturbed by the lack of transparency on Saied’s ideas and the lack of a prime minister.
Human rights groups have also denoted the arrest of many parliament members and business leaders on several charges, including some old ones that were reactivated after their license was withdrawn. One of the arrested parliament members told Reuters on Wednesday he had been released.