The president of Tunisia, Kais Said, decreed the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday after a group of 124 deputies – out of a total of 217 – organized an online meeting through the Zoom application to annul the exceptional measures that the president implemented last July 25.
The president, who has been accumulating legislative, judicial and executive powers since July, decreed as a first measure the blocking of the application throughout the country. And then he announced by broadcasting a video the dissolution of Parliament. “We must protect the state from divisions. We will not let this aggression against the State continue, ”he declared in the video, according to the Reuters agency.
Said is a 64-year-old jurist, with no previous political experience, who swept an independent candidacy in the 2019 presidential elections, obtaining a resounding 72.71% of the vote, compared to 27.29% for his rival. The former professor of Constitutional Law was in favor of regenerating the system to return democracy to the people and combat corruption. But the president’s powers were limited to defense policy, foreign affairs, and national security. On July 25, he temporarily suspended the functions of Parliament based on a much-discussed interpretation of an article of the Constitution that alludes to exceptional situations. At that time, 76.8% of Tunisians supported the president’s measure, according to the Sigma polling company, the most solvent in the country. But little by little, Said lost allies as he amassed more and more powers.
This Wednesday the critics intensified in the social networks. Said Benarbia, responsible for the Maghreb for the NGO International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), tweeted: “The Constitution is very clear. Parliament cannot be dissolved during the state of exception, as is regulated in article 80. (…) The president does not have the constitutional authority to suspend it″. Article 80 was the one Said used when he suspended Parliament in July. In dozens of tweets this Wednesday the phrase of that article was underlined, stating that “the President of the Republic cannot dissolve the Assembly of People’s Representatives.”
The Minister of Justice, Leïla Jaffel, announced that the prosecution has launched a judicial investigation against the deputies who held the meeting online, in which they are accused of conspiring against the State. A total of 116 of the 124 parliamentarians meeting electronically voted in favor of annulling the exceptional measures decreed in July.
The Tunisian Parliament was very atomized after the 2019 legislative elections. The party of Islamist origin Ennahda was the winner, but with only a quarter of the votes. The image of this party had been deteriorating in the last decade. Many of his critics accused him of being largely responsible for the corruption that is eating away at the country and for economic stagnation. Said took over all the powers in the midst of a tense social context aggravated by the pandemic. Despite the fact that the Tunisian president had the support of a large part of the population, Ennahda’s supporters called him from the beginning a “coup leader”. And now, it is Said’s supporters who are accusing the MPs gathered online, mostly from Ennahda, of plotting a coup.
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