Tunisian President dissolves Parliament, creating a new political crisis.

Tunisian President Kais Said has dismantled parliament through a decree. This further cements his power and escalates a crisis in the North African nation once considered the Arab Spring’s democracy success story.

Saied suspended the elected chamber in July, when he launched a power grab that posed the most serious test of Tunisia’s institutions since it transitioned to democracy after the 2011 revolution. After more than half the members of parliament held an online session Wednesday night, which was their first since July, and voted in favor to repeal certain measures Saied had used to take power, the president announced that he would dissolve parliament.

In a video address late Wednesday, Saied accused members of parliament of attempting a failed coup and conspiring against national security. Saied ordered the investigation of all deputies that took part in the online session. Saied said his actions are “protecting the people and the nation.”

The move answers a long-standing demand of Tunisians who turned out to protest across the country last year, largely against the unpopular parliament, which demonstrators blamed for failing to address high unemployment and falling living standards. Twelve years ago, Tunisia’s revolution toppled Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. This triggered popular rebellions throughout the Middle East. Several segments of Tunisia’s population have turned against democracy, and reacted with anger towards the largest Islamist party Ennahda.

Saied’s attempts to dismantle the country’s institutions and place them under his authority have raised concerns among human rights activists in Tunisia, the United States and elsewhere. Saied has also replaced a body meant to ensure judicial independence, and journalists and critics continue to be arrested as press organizations warn that freedom of speech is under attack. The dissolution of the parliament almost cements Saied’s one-man rule according to Selim Kharrat, a Tunisian political analyst.

“We are no longer able to talk about Tunisian democracy. All the bases of democracy are under the control of Saied, of only one person,” he said, calling the situation “very dangerous.”

Members of parliament who attended the online session that precipitated Saied’s announcement accused the government of trying to censor it by disabling teleconferencing applications. The Wednesday meeting was delayed by Zoom and Teams malfunctions. The minister in charge of communications technology denied government interference, Reuters reported.

Saied, a former constitutional law professor, said Tunisia’s 2014 constitution — which he has launched a process to amend — gives him the authority to take such actions as dissolving parliament. Critics and analysts pointed out a clause that specifically states the president can’t dissolve the assembly.

“With this action, he confirmed a constitutional coup and the return to an anti-democratic regime of omnipotence,” said Oussama Khlifi, head of the parliamentary bloc for the Heart of Tunisia party. Some deputies were summoned Friday by the anti-terrorism branch. This was in relation to their participation in Wednesday’s assembly.

Ghannouchi said the online meeting was intended to prove that the legislature is “still alive and able to play its role after seven to eight months of obstruction” and that “Tunisian democracy has not failed.” He said the majority of deputies have rejected Saied’s power grab and remain committed to the separation of powers, which Ghannouchi called a “fundamental principle of democracy.”

“Instead of the president respecting the will of the representatives of the people, he issued an angry response by dissolving parliament, which is an unjust and arbitrary decision that has no basis in Tunisia’s constitution,” Ghannouchi told The Post.

Yamina Zghlami from Ennahda, who was present at Wednesday’s session with members across all political parties, stated that the dissolution of parliament would be protested by some members.

“We’ll continue civil resistance and civil activism to ensure the restoration of democratic institutions.

Ghannouchi warned that the president’s dismantling of democratic institutions would further spook foreign donors and investors at a time when some Tunisians are threatened with “starvation.”

The Tunisian economy faces a host of problems, including downgrades to the country’s credit ratings and soaring food prices. Tunisia seeks assistance from the International Monetary Fund in order to avoid defaulting its debt. However, political instability has hindered economic reform efforts.

Saied won in a landslide in 2019 and continues to garner widespread support. Kharrat stated that the decision to disband parliament would be popular with Tunisians. Kharrat said that the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union voted in support of the decision and called the dissolution corrupt. It also warned President Saied not to use the judiciary against political enemies.

But, with almost all of his powers at his disposal, Saied will be under greater pressure to address the economic crisis. Kharrat stated that the only thing that could threaten Saied’s popular support is Tunisians’ economic and social condition.

Western powers have criticized Saied’s moves and raised worries about democratic backsliding in Tunisia. A group of House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 25 urging the Biden administration to “consider Tunisia’s significant democratic regression” as it assesses aid for Tunisia and to review any funding for the country’s internal security forces.”

“The president’s public statements rejecting the principle of a directly elected national legislature and characterizing critics as traitors are deeply concerning and raises serious doubts about his commitment to democratic checks and balances in any new Tunisian political system to emerge” from his constitutional reforms, the lawmakers wrote.

Uzra Zeya, U.S. undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, visited Tunisia last week, before Saied dissolved parliament, and noted concerns about Tunisia’s “democratic trajectory,” according to a statement this week describing her visit. But she was “heartened by government assurances of inclusivity during implementation of the political roadmap.”

Parliamentary leaders are urging Western allies to continue providing economic assistance to Tunisia, no matter the political circumstances.

Saied stated that he would form a committee in order to revise the constitution, and have a referendum in July on its contents. This will be before December’s parliamentary elections. Kharrat stated that Tunisia may face nine more months without functioning parliament. He also said that elections could not take place in December, even though they are scheduled for late in the year. Kharrat stated that

Saied was “not willing and able to cooperate with other people” and inept at facing criticism. He called a national consultation initiative the president is running to gather public input on changes to the constitution unrepresentative and a “total fail.”

Kharrat said the constitution says elections must be held within 90 days if parliament is dissolved.

Ghannouchi said his party is calling for the restoration of the existing parliament. However, other parties are calling for new elections.

But, new elections will not always lead to a more democratic outcome in the end. Abir Moussi (head of the Free Constitutional Party) has asked Saied for elections to be called within three months. According to polls, her party which is made up of supporters of Ben Ali the ex-dictator, will win most of the seats in the parliament, if there are elections soon.

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