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Tunisian President’s Suspension of Parliament Gets Mixed Reaction


Tunisian police stand guard outside the parliament in Tunis on July 27, 2021.

Tunisia's Islamist al Nahda Party is calling President Kais Saied's suspension of parliament a "coup" and urging a broad "dialogue," while other political parties and leaders appear divided on his decision.

A number of trade syndicates, including the Labor Federation, say they support the move so long as it does not last more than a month.

Tunisian state TV reported that the situation inside the country was calm Tuesday following Saied's decision Sunday to suspend parliament. It said Tunisians were largely obeying a curfew that forbids more than three people from gathering in the streets during the night.

Most government institutions, with the exception of security forces, interior ministry and customs, were also suspended for several days. The president met with political and trade union leaders to discuss his next move, amid calls by some for a well-defined "road-map."

Tunisia's President Kais Saied, center, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis, July 25, 2021.
Tunisia's President Kais Saied, center, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis, July 25, 2021.

The Tunisian president told a roundtable Monday night that he had been patient for a long time, but that some provocateurs were trying to destroy government institutions from within. Saied asked for calm and urged citizens to avoid provocations. Democracy is important, he said, but the poor have no rights.

Tunisian al Nahda party leader Rached al Ghannouchi speaks during a press conference on May 15, 2013 in Tunis.
Tunisian al Nahda party leader Rached al Ghannouchi speaks during a press conference on May 15, 2013 in Tunis.

Islamist parliament speaker Rached al Ghannouchi told supporters to suspend their protest in front of parliament to avoid bloodshed. His al Nahda Party called the president's suspension of parliament a "coup," but urged all political parties to hold a dialogue.

Peter Johnson, a former U.S. diplomat who now works in Tunisia, tells VOA that he doesn't see a clear-cut answer as to whether the president's move was legal or not.

"I would definitely say it's a grey area. It's not really clear black or white because this is something that article 80 [of the constitution] gives him the power [to do] as commander-in-chief of the military — the power of national security, of protecting the borders, of diplomacy," Johnson said. "However, at the same time, that same section of the constitution talks of his power to remove certain government officials, but not to completely suspend parliament."

Johnson points out that the constitution also gives parliament the right to remove the president with a two-thirds vote, so the president short-circuited a major check and balance. But, he argues, the Tunisian public seems broadly supportive of Saied's move, so far.

"The Tunisian people seem broadly supportive [of the president's move] so far," Johnson said. "I hear from many, many friends and from seeing the celebrations in the streets that people were very frustrated by the stalemate and the inaction of this current government [or past government]."

A Tunisian man reads the newspaper on the Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis on July 27, 2021.
A Tunisian man reads the newspaper on the Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis on July 27, 2021.

Fathi al Ayadi, a spokesman for the Islamist al Nahda Party, told Qatar's al Jazeera TV (Arabic) that "the best way to avoid the threats to the country that [President Saied] says he is trying to prevent is a return to normal constitutional procedures and a return to democracy and the political process."

Outspoken Tunisian member of parliament Abir Moussi applauded the president for sidelining the al Nahda Party, while Oussam Khleifi, of the Heart of Tunisia Party, thanked him for "his wise leadership and for acting swiftly." The head of the Tunisian workers' party, however, claimed the president was "misleading the people."

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