Conflict Alerts # 495, 6 April 2022
In the news
On 30 March, President Kais Saied dissolved the Parliament. Saied said: "Today, at this historic moment, I announce the dissolution of the Assembly of Representatives of the people, to preserve the state and its institutions." Saied added: "We must protect the state from division … We will not allow the abusers to continue their aggression against the state." Earlier, on the same day, parliamentarians met virtually and voted to repeal a presidential decree which had suspended the Parliament in July 200. The meeting was led by the former parliamentary speaker and leader of the opposition party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi. Saied termed the meeting as a coup attempt and maintained that elections will not be held within three months. Instead, he said there would be a new draft constitution for a referendum in July and elections would be held in December.
On 1 April, Ghannouchi said the anti-terrorism police had summoned him for questioning; several other parliamentarians in the virtual meeting were also summoned.
Issues at large
First, Saied's power grab. The dissolution of the Parliament comes eight months after Saied suspended Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the Parliament in July 2021. Saied invoked Article 80 and assumed executive powers; he replaced cabinet ministers with acting ministers. In September 2021, Saied announced to rule by decree wherein he could appoint a cabinet and draft and implement policies without objections. In December 2021, Saied extended the suspension until December 2022 and said elections would be held on 17 December. The date marks the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution which sparked the Arab Spring in 2011. In February, Saied also issued a decree to abolish the High Judicial Council and establish the Supreme Judiciary Council. With this, Saied gained powers to select, promote, appoint and transfer, and act as a disciplinary chamber to remove judges.
Second, the debate on the constitution. In 2014, Tunisia adopted a new constitution; Saied, however, opines: "This constitution is based on putting locks everywhere and institutions cannot proceed with locks or deals." The current constitution provides for the direct election of the President and a coalition elects the PM. Saied has been calling for a transition to a presidential system, while the opposition prefers a full parliamentary system. The largest opposition party, Ennahda, rejected the idea of rewriting the constitution and said, deviating from the 2014 constitution implies moving away from democracy.
Third, sentiments on the ground. Tunisians have been holding demonstrations against Saied's power grab. Al Jazeera quoted several protesters who said that Saied's has failed to see the ground reality; Tunisia has been undergoing an economic crisis and unemployment, exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In January, Saied launched an online poll to assess the public's opinion on rewriting the constitution. However, less than six per cent of the voters participated in the poll.
First, over the last year have Tunisia has been in a political fix. Under the Kais Saied administration, Tunisia is witnessing one of the most tumultuous periods since the 2011 revolution. People have lost hopes for a better future as they bear the brunt of a political and economic crisis.
Second, the move to suspend and dissolve the Parliament, and interfere in the judicial process has helped Saied solidify his power. Therefore, Saied's decisions have been taking Tunisia further away from the democratic reforms that the revolution had once envisioned.