TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia’s president has prolonged the special powers he granted himself a month ago when he began ruling by decree after firing the prime minister, freezing parliament and lifting the immunity of lawmakers.
President Kais Saied had been expected to step back within 30 days, the time the Tunisian Constitution allows for such special measures. On Friday, Saied assured that changes would be made “in the coming days,” while adding that “the institutions of state are functioning normally.”
As the 30-day deadline approached, the president issued a decree late Monday saying that exceptional measures would remain in place “until further notice.” Saied did not give a reason for his action but said he would address the nation in the days ahead.
The president moved to consolidate power in his hands on July 25, after nationwide, sometimes violent protests against worsening social and economic conditions exacerbated by the spread of the coronavirus. Other nations have since poured vaccines and oxygen equipment into Tunisia, which had few resources with which to fight the pandemic.
Since he took full charge of the country, Saied fired top government ministers, along with a handful of regional governors, while police went after lawmakers and other officials for alleged corruption.
The president blamed corruption on “10 years of theft and non-application of the law,” a reference to Tunisia’s governance following the revolution that ousted its long-time autocratic leader and sparked the Arab Spring a decade ago. The North African nation was widely seen as a model for budding democracies but has failed to cure chronic unemployment and other social ills, especially in neglected provinces.
Saied was in part pointing a finger at the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, which has shared power since the 2011 revolution. Ennahdha leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who also was parliament speaker before the legislature, accused the president of mounting a coup d’état by taking on all executive powers.
The president of Tunisia’s legal bar, Brahim Bouderbala, is among those who think the president’s decision to assume exceptional powers a month ago was positive and that prolonging the measure was to be expected because one month is not enough time to lay the groundwork for change.
Bouderbala, who has met with the president, told Radio Mosaique that Saied “has a project” targeting the political system, voting and the running of state institutions,
Bouderbala said he said he paid a visit to show support for Chawki Tabib, a lawyer and former head of Tunisia’s anti-corruption body. Tabib who was placed under house arrest Friday, is among the officials swept up in the anti-corruption campaign. Details of the allegations against him were not known.
Saied has received emissaries from Tunisia’s regional allies and elsewhere over the past month. Some voiced full support for him, while others, notably Western nations, urged a quick return to the democratic process.
Inside Tunisia, the powerful UGTT union and others asked the president to provide a roadmap for the future.
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