Tunisia has faced a political turmoil on Sunday. The country’s president Kais Saied dismissed the Prime Minister Hichem Mechici and closed the parliament for 30 days. Saied announced that he was firing Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and that he and a new prime minister, to be named in the coming hours, would take up executive authority.
Saied announced his decisions in a televized adress on the Watanyia 1 national channel. Concerning parliamentary acitivities, Saied stated “The first decision I should have taken months ago regards the parliament. It is to suspend all its activities.”
The President, elected in October 2019 for 5 years, also announced to lift the parliamentary immunity of all MPs and the prosecution of those involved in judicial proceedings.
As a third decision, Saied announced that the President of the Republic will take over the executive power, helped by a government headed by a Prime Minister appointed by the President of the Republic, reports the Tunisian press agency Tunis Afrique Press.
The president’s move came on the Tunisian Republic Day, which commemorates the vote to establish the Tunisian Republic in 1957.
Referring to the so-called Arab Spring that started in Tunisia in 2011, the President stated “The Tunisian people are continuing their revolution in legitimacy. I will no longer be satisfied with observing what is happening, I must shoulder the responsibility and I have done so. I have chosen to stand by the people. Other measures will follow as the situation develops.”
Ennahdha: “This is a coup”
President of the Ennahdha movement Rached Ghannouchi described the decisions of President of the Republic Kais Saied as a “putsch against the Revolution and the Constitution,” assuring that Ennahdha’s supporters and the Tunisian people will defend the Revolution.
“What Kais Saied has done is a putsch against the Revolution and the Constitution,” the movement said in a statement.
Ennahdha is currently the biggest fraction in the parliament with 52 MPs out of 217. It holds a governing majority of 106 MPs in coalition with other parties. Ghannouchi is also speaker of the parliament.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Ghannouchi stated that the Parliament “cannot be suspended” remains active, describing the president’s announcements as “invalid” and unconstitutional.
Sunday: protests and celebrations
Hundreds of people are reported to have protested the Mechichi Government on Sunday due its failure in face of the Covid pandemic.
During the protests, protesters vandalized Ennahdha offices across the country in several cities, reports the Tunisian news agency. The headquarters of the party in Tunis had to be protected by police against protesters.
Later on Sunday night, the president joined personally the celebrating crowds in the country’s capital Tunis.
Ongoing crisis between President and Government
The President’s dismissal of the Prime Minister and freeze of the parliament is the latest episode in an ongoing political crisis in Tunisia.
The president has been refusing since January to swear in 11 new ministers. The Financial Times comments the president his election in 2019 made no secret that he does not favour the party political system, instead preferring a presidential order.
Back in April 2021, the Middle East Eye commented that the President displayed tendencies towards a “soft coup” and “authoritarian tendencies as he pronounced himself head of both military and civilian armed forces”.
In April, Saied blocked parliament’s efforts to move forward with the creation of Tunisia’s constitutional court. This move can have a decisive character, as the President justified his decision of Sunday with the constitution’s article 80, which allows the president to take measure of emergency in face of a threat to national security.
According to documents leaked in May and cited by Middle East Eye, the president’s advisors urged Saeid to seize control of the country from the elected government as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and mounting levels of debt. A plan, labeled “absolutely secret” and dated May 13 calls the president to establish a “constitutional dictatorship”.
Political parties reject “coup”
The government itself decried the Sunday decisions as a breach of the constitution, declaring the article does not provide the closure of parliament.
Attempts of Ghannouchi to hold an emergency meeting of the parliament Monday morning were stopped by military units that were blocking the entrance.
Ghannouchi and other political parties’ representatives have held a sit-in on Monday in front of the parliament, while important oppositional parties, including Heart of Tunisia and Karama have opposed the move of Said, evaluating it as “a coup”.
Covid and economic crisis
Tunisia has been strongly affected by the Covid pandemic, which in turn caused economic damage to the country’s tourism dependent economy.
The country has been negotiating an IMF emergency loan for months without agreement till today.