Tunisian political crisis continues

Tunisia’s president dissolves parliament in latest anti-democratic maneuver

By Ivy Lewis, Staff Writer

Tunisian President Kais Saied has dissolved the country’s parliament last week, the latest move in the African country’s ongoing political crisis.

While attending a meeting for the National Security Council, Saied announced that Tunisia’s parliament was dissolved and said that members of parliament (MPs) would be prosecuted.

Hours prior to this announcement, parliamentarians met and voted through a bill against the “exceptional measures” taken by Saied as acting President.

Saied denounced the actions taken by parliament, stating in a televised address that it was a “coup attempt” and that the MPs who were responsible for the vote would be “criminally prosecuted.”

“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 continued.

Elected in 2019, Saied has fired many high-ranking members of the government, frozen the assembly and granted himself wide-ranging powers.

He granted himself the power to rule and legislate by decree, rather than through democratic processes. Under his presidency, Tunisia has seen an increase in authoritarian practices, such as prosecuting civilians in military courts and arresting journalists and political opponents.

Critics of Saied have said that his actions as president are pushing Tunisia toward autocracy and political repression. As a result of parliament being frozen under his presidency, MPs decided to meet online to discuss a bill that would cancel his measures.

“We are not frozen or suspended MPs… but we are under the power of a new pharaoh,” politician and former Tunisian presidential candidate Safi Said noted.

In addition to threatening the MPs who participated in the online meeting with criminal prosecution, Saied dismissed the meeting as illegal.

Last month, he replaced the top council of the judiciary with judges he selected himself. Although the judiciary is intended to serve as an unbiased body, Saied has targeted his political opponents with claims that they are engaging in crimes against the state.

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Saied began to amass power after his election in 2019, by firing rivals, arresting journalists and enhancing his own executive powers. Political opponents and citizens alike have criticized his dissolution of parliament.

Thus far, at least 30 parliamentarians have been questioned by anti-terrorism police on the charge of “conspiring against state security,” according to Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the dissolved parliament.

Critics of Saied’s government warn this overreach of power could have dramatic consequences for Tunisia’s future. Several other political party leaders have come out against Saied.

“Saied, who usurped power, should immediately end the exceptional measures,” Free Constitutional Party leader Abir Moussi said.

Saied has also suggested that his political opponents and those who spoke out against him should not be allowed to run in future elections.

Saied’s rise to power occurred during a time of significant political unrest in Tunisia, the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. 

He was elected with over 70% of all votes following the revolution that overthrew longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Critics of Saied argued that his power grab after the Arab Spring was anti-democratic. 

However, according to France 24, many Tunisians were receptive to his actions as president. Prior to his presidency, parliament was often deadlocked, and many citizens perceived their government as ineffectual.

Coupled with an economic crisis that has resulted in poverty, unrest and lack of trust in governmental institutions, some citizens see Saied’s growing power as a sign that the country was taking action.

MPs continue to call upon the president to call early elections.