Tunisia political limbo: President indefinitely extends suspension of parliament

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Tunisia's President Kais Saied (C) meets with Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra (3rd-L) in the capital Tunis on August 23, 2021. (Photo via AFP)

A state of uncertainty continues to dominate politics in Tunisia, as the country effectively remains without a government one month after President Kais Saied abruptly sacked his prime minister, with the chief executive now indefinitely extending the suspension of parliament.

Saied’s unexpected intervention last month granted him an executive power, but bitterly irked his opponents, who denounced the move as a coup.

On Monday, Saied’s office issued "a presidential decree extending the exceptional measures... regarding the suspension of Parliament and lifting of the parliamentary immunity of its MPs until further notice.”

The president is to address the nation in the coming days, the statement said, without providing further details.

He is widely anticipated to announce new measures that would reassure a highly anxious Tunisian public and allay international concerns about Tunisia entering an authoritarian era.

Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days in July, following mass protests in several cities against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tunisia’s biggest political party Ennahda denounced the move as a “coup,” but Saied at the time argued that his decision was meant to save Tunisia from collapse.

He said he would assume executive authority “with the help” of a government whose new chief he would personally appoint.

Ever since, authorities have placed several officials, including former ministers, under house arrest. Several politicians, lawmakers, businessmen and judges also say they have been banned from traveling abroad.

Apart from plunging the country into a political limbo, the latest developments have exacerbated political polarization in Tunisia.

The president’s critics have denounced the measures as "arbitrary" and "unjustified."

Many, however, have thrown their weight behind the president, defending his decision to strip lawmakers of their immunity, as per Article 80 of the constitution that allows for exceptional measures if there is an "imminent danger" to national security.

Ennahdha — the largest party in parliament — called for a national dialog. But Saeed was quick to brush aside the initiative.

Before the latest presidential decree was issued, the party also announced the dismissal of its executive committee.

Party leader and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi has decided to form a new board "in order to meet the demands of the current period,” the party said in a statement.

“Ennahda’s head decided to dismiss the party’s executive members and restructure it in a way that responds to the requirements of the phase,” it added.

Ghannouchi is under fire over his handling of the month-long political crisis. Prominent leaders from within his party have demanded that he quit the leadership.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that ousted former Western-backed ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The party, however, started to lose support since the economy stagnated and public services declined, after the pandemic hit the nation last year and infection rates surged this summer.

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