Tunis (AP) – Tunisian President Kais Saied has surprisingly removed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi from office, suspending the work of parliament for the time being.
Saied announced on Sunday evening after a crisis meeting with representatives of the army and security authorities that he would take over government affairs together with a new prime minister. In addition, the immunity of all MPs will be lifted. According to the cabinet of the president, the work of the parliament is suspended for 30 days.
Months of power struggle
«We are living one of the most sensitive moments in Tunisian history. They are indeed the most dangerous minutes,” Saied said in a video address. He could be seen at the head of a conference table, along with some soldiers and officials and next to him the Tunisian flag. “We work within the legal framework,” said Saied.
The Islamist conservative Ennahda, the country’s largest party, spoke of a “coup d’état”. The Tunisians would defend the success of their “revolution”, but Ennahda boss Rached Ghannouchi announced on Facebook – apparently in connection with the 2011 Arab uprisings. It was a “coup” against the constitution. In the evening there were reports of attacks on offices of various parties.
Saied’s supporters took to the streets that night cheering. Some set off fireworks, others gathered in groups with flags, as can be seen in videos on the Internet. Military helicopters circled over the parliament in Tunis at night. Army soldiers were also deployed in other parts of the capital.
Pandemic plays a role
The announcements follow critical anti-government protests in various parts of the country over the sharp rise in the number of corona cases and an ongoing economic crisis. The protesters called for the resignation of the government and the dissolution of parliament. Tunisia is currently experiencing a sharp rise in the number of corona cases. So far, 555,000 corona infections and about 18,000 deaths have been reported. Vaccinations are progressing slowly.
A power struggle has been raging for months between former law professor Saied, who has been in office since October 2019, as well as Mechichi and parliament. Saied said the steps he announced were within the legal framework of the constitution. Article 80 gives him the right to take extraordinary measures in case of “serious threat to the unity, security and independence of the country”.
Democracy with starting problems
Many Tunisians have lost faith in the political elite and should see Saied’s announcements as a long overdue action. Critics, on the other hand, fear a return to authoritarian rule, such as under long-standing ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than 20 years and was ousted in 2011 after mass protests.
Tunisia is the only country in the region to transition to democracy since the Arab uprisings. However, it still faces an economic crisis, high unemployment and widespread corruption.