Tunisia’s president on Sunday said he would take full control of the country after firing the prime minister and suspending parliament in a move opponents labeled a “coup,” The New York Times reports.
President Kais Saied announced the power grab amid anti-government protests over deteriorating conditions made worse by the Covid pandemic.
Leading opposition party Ennahda called it “a coup against the Tunisian democracy and its constitution,” the only one to emerge out of the Arab Spring protests, and “a betrayal of every Tunisian.”
“Tunisia is the only Arab Spring’s success story and that story does not end here,” the party said. “We call on every international supporter of democracy to come together to speak out immediately against this injustice and call for the immediate restoration of our Parliament.”
Democracy in crisis:
Tunisia saw the first revolution in the Arab Spring a decade ago and is the only country where democracy has thus far survived as Syria, Libya, and Yemen continue to face armed conflict and Egypt’s military toppled its elected ruler.
But Tunisia has continued to struggle with high unemployment, poor economic numbers, and corruption, all of which were exacerbated by the pandemic.
The struggles resulted in public tension between Saied and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the speaker of Parliament, Rachid Ghannouchi.
The country’s recent Constitution separates power between the three men but Saied has pushed to expand his authority by refusing to swear in new ministers and blocking the creation of a constitutional court.
Last week, Saied stripped the country’s health ministry of its leading role in the Covid response and shifted it to the military.
Saied issued a statement vowing to issue a decree “regulating these exceptional measures that the circumstances have dictated,” adding that the measures “will be lifted when those circumstances change.”
Saied has been a popular leader since his election in 2019 but he has drawn allegations of abuse of power after he refused to swear in 11 ministers linked to Mechichi.
Saied has cited Article 80 of the Constitution, which has says grants the president exceptional powers but the Times notes that Article 80 “accords the president such powers only if there is an imminent threat.”
Saied said he made the move after consulting both Mechichi and Gannouchi, which the latter denied, calling it a “coup” and “unconstitutional, illegal and invalid.”