Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Wednesday he would rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepares to change the political system, drawing immediate opposition from his rivals.
Saied has held almost full power since July 25, when he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive power, citing a national emergency in a move his enemies have called a coup.
His intervention undermined the democratic gains of the Tunisian revolution of 2011 which ended the autocratic regime and triggered the Arab Spring, despite Saied’s promises to respect the freedoms acquired ten years ago.
Over the weeks, he comes under increasing pressure from Tunisian political actors and Western donors to appoint a prime minister and explain how he intends to emerge from the crisis.
The new measures announced on Wednesday go far beyond the measures he took in July, writing in the official journal rules that transform Tunisia’s political system to give the president almost unlimited power.
The rules published in the Official Journal allow it to publish “legislative texts” by decree, to appoint the Cabinet and to set its political orientations and fundamental decisions without interference.
The elected parliament, which he suspended in July on the basis of a highly controversial reading of the constitution, will not only remain frozen but its members will stop receiving their salaries. They will always be deprived of immunity from prosecution.
Saied did not set any time limit on his seizure of power, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.”
The presidency said that in the meantime only the preamble to the existing constitution and any clauses that do not contradict the executive and legislative powers it seized will remain in effect.
The leader of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, the largest in the deeply fragmented parliament and a member of successive government coalitions, immediately rejected Saied’s announcements.
Rached Ghannouchi said the announcement meant the annulment of the constitution and that Ennahda, who had previously declared Saied’s intervention on July 25 a coup, would not agree to this.
A senior official from Heart of Tunisia, the second largest party in parliament, accused Saied of carrying out a “premeditated coup”.
“We call for a national alignment against the coup,” the official, Osama al-Khalifi, said on Twitter.
This month, a Saied adviser told Reuters that Saied planned to suspend the constitution and come up with a new version via a public referendum, prompting a backlash from the powerful union and political parties.
Saied has denied having dictatorial aspirations, insists his moves are constitutional and is committed to defending the rights of Tunisians.
His widely popular intervention came after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, made worse by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and a day of violent protests.
However, as the weeks go by, a growing number of Tunisians are increasingly concerned about the lack of clarity on Saied’s plans and the absence of a prime minister.
Rights groups have also reported the arrest of several parliamentarians and business leaders on various charges, including some old ones that were reactivated after their immunity was lifted.
One of the detained parliamentarians told Reuters on Wednesday he had been released.
After criticism of the widespread use of travel bans against members of the political and business elite, Saied said last week that only those subject to a warrant or court summons would be barred from leave Tunisia.
The first protest against Saied since his intervention took place on Saturday, and activists have called for a bigger one this weekend.