Tunisia’s largest political party has called for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, changing tack after initially urging MPs and its supporters to protest outside parliament in the capital Tunis on Monday.
In a statement published on Tuesday, the Islamist Ennahdha party reiterated that they considered President Saied’s decision to suspend parliament and sack the prime minister as “unconstitutional”, but took a more conciliatory approach, calling on Saied to reverse the measures.
Tunisia, touted as a success story of the 2010 Arab Spring revolutions, is facing deep political uncertainty after the president froze parliament for 30 days and fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi amid rising COVID cases and a faltering economy.
Mechichi on Monday night announced he would hand over responsibility to whomever the president chooses “to avoid any further blockage at a time when the country needs to join forces to get out of this crisis situation on all levels”.
Saied’s decisions came after anti-government protests took place across the country, prompted by the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis but also rooted in the country’s economic stagnation, rising living costs and frustration with a political class embroiled in infighting.
The president’s decision was met with jubilation, with tens of thousands of Tunisians hitting the streets across the north African nation. The Ennahda party flags were burnt and the party offices were targeted in some parts of the country.The powerful workers union, the UGTT, came out in support of Saied but underlined that there must be guarantees that these exceptional measures will be limited and not become permanent.
For now, the majority of political parties have criticised Saied’s move as unconstitutional, including the coalition of Ennahda, Karama Coalition and Qalb Tounes, as well as the centrist Democratic Current, which tended to align itself with the president in the stretched out political conflict with the prime minister and his backers in parliament.
The president says that his actions are constitutional under Article 80 of the constitution, which allows the president to take any measures in the event of “imminent danger” after consultation with the presidents of government and parliament.
But many view his actions as exceeding the limitations of the constitution.
“Suspending parliament doesn’t square well [with article 80] but in the absence of a constitutional court, it is the president that interprets. He is the guarantor of rights and of the constitution,” said Amna Guellali, deputy regional director for Amnesty International, adding that whether or not it is constitutional does not matter as much as who holds the power on the ground.