Tunisia's President Kais Saied has dissolved the North African country’s parliament, some eight months after he suspended the legislature in a move branded by his critics as a power grab.
Then a political neophyte, Saied clinched a landslide victory in general elections in 2019, vowing to clean up Tunisian politics.
In July last year and after violent rallies against the government demanding the improvement of basic services, however, he suspended the parliament, known as the Assembly of Representatives, for a month and relieved the prime minister of his duties, waived the immunity of lawmakers, and ordered the military to close the parliament house.
Saied later extended the suspension of the parliament until a new election takes place. In September, he announced that he would rule by decree, ignoring parts of the constitution. In February this year, he also dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, a top independent judicial watchdog.
Opponents accused him of launching a coup and attempting to assume near-total power.
On Wednesday, more than half the parliament members held a plenary session online and voted through a bill against Saied’s “exceptional measures,” although he dismissed their meeting as illegal.
Hours later, Saied issued a decree dissolving the parliament, accusing the legislators of mounting a coup and organizing a conspiracy against state security. He then ordered investigations into their conduct.
“We must protect the state from division... We will not allow the abusers to continue their aggression against the state,” the president said in a video posted online late Wednesday. “Today, at this historic moment, I announce the dissolution of the Assembly of Representatives of the people, to preserve the state and its institutions.” he added at a meeting of the National Security Council.
The president also condemned the parliament’s move as a “coup attempt” and said those responsible had “betrayed” the nation.
After the online session held by lawmakers on Wednesday, Tunisia’s Justice Minister Leila Jeffal, according to local media, asked the attorney general to open a judicial investigation against members of the suspended parliament on charges of “conspiring against state security.”
Saied, a former law professor, says he will form a committee to rewrite the constitution, put it to a referendum in July, and hold parliamentary elections in December.
Critics say Saied has moved Tunisia — which faces a grinding economic crisis — down a dangerous path back toward autocracy.
“We are not afraid to defend a legitimate institution,” said Yamina Zoglami, a parliament member, adding, “The people did not withdraw confidence from us. The president closed parliament with a tank.”