Tunisia 'state of exception' hits halfway with no govt in sight

AFP , Sunday 8 Aug 2021

Halfway into Tunisia's 30-day "state of exception" announced by President Kais Saied last month, he has yet to lay out a road map or appoint a government

Kais Saied
Tunisian president Kais Saied

Halfway into Tunisia's 30-day "state of exception" announced by President Kais Saied last month, he has yet to lay out a road map or appoint a government.

Despite naming several ministers to replace those in the sacked administration of Hichem Mechichi, Saied is facing calls to pick a prime minister quickly and explain his next steps.

And while many have welcomed his moves to strip MPs of their immunity, some worry his powers could easily go too far, with a suspended parliament unable to rein him in.

"There needs to be a road map, for the current situation and of what comes next, to show how we're going to return to the constitution," said Aymen Bensallah, an analyst at parliamentary monitor Bawsala.

The uncertainty is weighing on an economy already in tatters following a decade of political unrest and stalemate, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic which has brought the health system to the edge of collapse and dealt a severe blow to the vital tourism sector.

Saied's move also comes as Tunisia negotiates with the International Monetary Fund for a fourth bailout loan in 10 years, likely to be conditioned on biting austerity measures that would inflict further pain on ordinary Tunisians.

Many Tunisians have backed Saied's move to strip parliamentarians of their immunity, seen as a long-overdue move against a corrupt and inept political class.

According to monitor I Watch, 14 MPs are facing trial, on charges including tax fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest or even sexual harassment.

"Some members of parliament were facing prosecution and were using their parliamentary immunity to protect themselves," said Bensallah.

"But we still don't have any information on the question of arrests."

Analyst Hatem M'rad said Saied's moves were "risky".

The president "is thirsty for justice. But the absolute quest for justice is risky," he said.

'Salvation' government

Opponents of Saied have warned of a "purge".

Many observers raised the alarm following the arrest of MP Yassine Ayari, a civilian found guilty by a military court in 2018 of criticising the army.

Civil society groups have also warned of a power vacuum and called on Saied to name a prime minister and publicly lay out his plan.

Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, seen as one of the key targets of Saied's move, has called for a national dialogue -- something the president quickly dismissed.

He has moved to smash the party's networks within the justice and interior ministries, which many accuse Ennahdha of using to pervert justice and entrench impunity for certain business and political lobbies.

The party is accused of blocking investigations into the murders of left-wing figures Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013.

While many Tunisians, tired of their bickering and ineffective political class, back Saied's moves, others worry that little stands in the way of him further concentrating power in his hands.

The influential UGTT trade union confederation has backed Saied but urged him to quickly appoint a "salvation" government.

Saied's decree detailing the measures announced on July 25 said they would apply for a renewable period of 30 days. That has worried some activists, especially given the lack of a clear plan of action.

"Parliament is made up of the elected representatives of the people," M'rad said. "We shouldn't mess about with this institution even if there are abuses and violence. It's very worrying."

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