In Tunisia, voices worry about an exceptional regime “without any safeguards”

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A portrait of Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed in a photography store in Tunis on September 23, 2021.

The virulent speech delivered Monday evening September 20 in Sidi Bouzid left little doubt about the intentions of Tunisia’s new strongman. “The most important thing is not the constitution of a new government but the reform of the political system and the regime”, repeated Kaïs Saïed during this trip to the cradle of the 2011 revolution. Words welcomed by the crowd, who demanded the dissolution of Parliament, whose activities have been frozen for two months.

Words were translated into action on Wednesday with the publication of a presidential decree again based on article 80 of the Constitution. Already brandished on July 25 to justify Kaïs Saïed’s coup, this provision authorizes the president to take exceptional measures “In case of imminent danger to the country”. A peril that has become “Real, especially within the Assembly of People’s Representatives”, specifies the new text.

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The decree extends the suspension of Parliament and the lifting of the immunity of deputies. The latter are also deprived of bonuses and indemnities. The legislative power rests with the president, who can act by decree-laws, without recourse or possible annulment. The provisional body for the control of the constitutionality of laws, supposed to compensate for the lack of a constitutional court in the country, is also abolished. Only rights and freedoms are considered untouchable “Which cannot be undermined”, indicates the text.

“A legal dictatorship”

The president has pledged to appoint a head of government, a function that will be more like that of “Secretary of state for the presidency”, according to lawyer Slim Laghmani. According to the new decree, the action of the head of government is indeed entirely dependent on the decisions of the presidency, a radical break with the semi-parliamentary regime endorsed by the 2014 Constitution.

According to Slim Laghmani, these provisions set “An organization of public powers that does not say its name, or even a new Constitution: the president definitely leaves the constitutional framework, even if he plays on legal terms to reassure, by speaking of exceptional measures”. The absence of deadlines is also worrying. “We are really at a crossroads. Does this text mean a definitive concentration of powers or just a transition, the time to organize a referendum on a new electoral law and new elections? “, asks the lawyer.

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The text indicates that a committee will have to work with the president on political reforms and regime change, which will devote “The sovereignty of the people” but also “The separation of powers and the real balance between them”, suggesting that this period of concentration of powers could be only temporary. “But there is no safeguard”, insists Slim Laghmani. Denouncing a dangerous drift of power, Yadh Ben Achour, lawyer and notorious opponent to the coup of July 25, sees in the presidential decree “The confirmation of a legal dictatorship and a counter-revolutionary process”.

Its publication provoked many critical reactions within the political class, with the exception of the faithful of the nationalist left, who have supported Kaïs Saïed from the start. The leader of the Islamo-conservative Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, also Speaker of Parliament, denounced ” a flashback […] towards the absolute power of one man, against which the revolution took place ”. He called for a “Peaceful struggle” for “Recover democracy and the Constitution”.

Other political actors less critical of Kaïs Saïed’s coup de force, such as the Democratic Current and other centrist formations, issued a statement denouncing “A transgression of legality and a putsch against the Constitution”.

“Don Quixote or warlord? “

Although the political parties, still disunited, are scrambling with legal experts on the legality of this new era of democratic transition, dissent has not yet been expressed in the streets. Saturday September 17th, only a few hundred Tunisians marched against the extension of the emergency regime. Another call to protest was launched by several parties for Sunday, September 26.

“The political oppositions have no real value, they reinforce the president in his speech against the parties. But we are waiting for the reaction of the central trade union, the UGTT, because it is also behind it that part of civil society will be aligned ”, says Slim Laghmani. The UGTT, one of the facilitators of the demonstrations during the revolution, is expected to speak officially this Friday.

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Even the defenders of the coup are now wondering who will be “Either a Don Quixote or a warlord”, according to the writer Abdelaziz Belkhodja, former member of the party of businessman Nabil Karoui, In the heart of Tunisia. “It is normal for the opposition to debate, considers the intellectual. But the average Tunisian is not necessarily interested in these legal questions. He expects something concrete, in particular on the urgency of the economic situation. “

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