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Tunisia's parliamentary crisis worsens

Tunisia’s suspended parliament defies president in vote against his measures

unisia president Kais Saied, flanked by the flag of Tunisia. (Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

TUNIS, March 30 (Reuters) - Tunisia's political crisis escalated on Wednesday as members of the suspended parliament met online in defiance of President Kais Saied, voting to repeal decrees that have given him near total power, and he responded by dissolving the chamber.

By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall

The online session was the first attempted by parliament since Saied suspended it in July and moved to one-man rule in a move his foes called a coup, and he accused those who took part of “a conspiracy against the security of the state”.

Some 124 MPs out of the total 217 attended the online session and 116 voted against the “exceptional measures” Saied has used since July, brushing aside the 2014 democratic constitution, deputy speaker Tarek Ftiti said.

The move represents parliament’s most direct challenge to Saied, who had warned a session would be illegal, but while it represents growing opposition to Saied and challenge to his legitimacy, it is not likely to alter his grip on power.

Speaking afterwards, Saied said he would dissolve parliament and the justice minister said he had opened an investigation into members who took part.

“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.

The meeting started after an hour’s delay. Reuters journalists and other people in Tunis said the connection to Zoom and Teams applications had stopped working temporarily shortly before the meeting was due to begin.

Speaking on the private Radio Mosaique, Communications Technology Minister Nizar Ben Neji denied that any applications had been disabled with the aim of disrupting the parliament session. ”

However, independent MP Iyadh Loumi told local radio “we accuse authorities of disrupting the session”.

“We are not afraid to defend a legitimate institution,” said Yamina Zoglami, a parliament member from the moderate Islamist Ennahda.

“The people did not withdraw confidence from us. The president closed parliament with a tank.”

 

DIVISION

Parliament’s increased confidence reflects broadening opposition to Saied as he tries to rewrite the constitution, take control of the judiciary and impose new restrictions on civil society.

Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament with a quarter of the seats, and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, who is parliamentary speaker, have been his most vocal critics.

Although political parties remain deeply divided against each other, more of them are now openly rallying against Saied and demanding he adopt an inclusive approach to any efforts to restructure the country’s politics.

Tunisia threw off autocratic rule in a 2011 revolution and introduced democracy, but its system that shared power between president and parliament has proven unpopular after years of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

Saied, a political newcomer and constitutional law professor, was elected in 2019 in a landslide second-round victory against a media mogul who was facing corruption charges, and he promised to clean up Tunisian politics.

As the economy moves towards disaster with the government seeking an international bailout and the powerful labour union warning of a general strike, many Tunisians have grown disillusioned with his focus on constitutional change.

However, Saied’s intervention last summer appeared to be immensely popular with a country sick of the political squabbling that had characterised a democratic era in which jobs grew scarce and public services declined.

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