Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Wednesday dissolved the country’s parliament, which has been suspended since last year, and said lawmakers who defied him by voting to repeal decrees he used to assume near total power would be prosecuted.
On 25 July last year, the president froze the assembly, sacked the government and seized wide-ranging powers. Later he later gave himself powers to rule and legislate by decree, and earlier this year he seized control over the judiciary.
Lawmakers said the measures have blocked the democratic process. Saied accused them of a failed coup and a conspiracy against state security, and he ordered investigations into them.
“We must protect the state from division… We will not allow the abusers to continue their aggression against the state,” Saied said in a video posted online.
His opponents accuse him of a coup, but he defends his actions as necessary to save Tunisia from years of political paralysis and economic stagnation at the hands of a corrupt, self-serving elite.
Saied who won elections in 2019 with a landslide 73 percent of votes, and his moves were initially welcomed by many Tunisians who were frustrated by the political system that emerged out of the 2011 revolution, which overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
But an economic crisis is trying his popularity, and deeply-divided opposition parties are starting to rally together against the president, demanding he adopt an inclusive approach to any efforts to restructure the country’s politics.
Rights groups warn of forceful repression of opposition protests, trials of civilians in military courts and arrests of journalists as signs that the country is returning to authoritarianism.
Saied says he will form a committee to rewrite the constitution, which will be put to a referendum in July, and then hold parliamentary elections in December.
Opposition parties have been urging the president to call elections earlier, and lawmakers on Wednesday called for legislative and presidential elections and a national dialogue to break the political stalemate.
(with Reuters and AFP)