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Tunisia president may suspend constitution, his adviser says

Kais Saied, Tunisia's president in Brussels, Belgium on 4 June 2021 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu/Bloomberg/Getty Images]
Kais Saied, Tunisia's president in Brussels, Belgium on 4 June 2021 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Tunisian President Kais Saied plans to suspend the constitution and may amend the political system via a referendum, one of his advisers told Reuters yesterday in the first clear indication of his plans after moves his critics have called a coup.

More than six weeks after Saied seized governing powers, dismissed the prime minister and suspended parliament on July 25, he has still not appointed a new government or made any broader declaration of his long-term intentions.

"This system cannot continue … changing the system means changing the constitution through a referendum, perhaps … the referendum requires logistical preparation," said Walid Hajjem, an adviser to Saied.

He added that this was the president's plan, which was at the final stage and was expected to be formally unveiled soon, but he did not expand on what changes Saied was contemplating.

Saied's intervention has thrust Tunisia into a constitutional crisis, raising concerns over the future of the democratic system it adopted after the 2011 revolution that led to the Arab Spring.

Saied has been widely expected to move to a presidential system of government that would reduce the role of the parliament, something that has been frequently discussed during years of gridlock since the 2014 constitution was agreed.

READ: Is Tunisia's president putting the cart before the horse?

He has defended his moves as necessary and said they were in line with the constitution, promised to respect Tunisians' rights and said he will not become a dictator.

However, arrests of parliament members after Saied lifted their immunity and numerous travel bans against prominent people have alarmed some rights advocates.

Both domestic and international forces have pushed for Saied to appoint a government and show how he means to exit the constitutional crisis caused by his intervention.

Tunisia faces grave economic problems and a looming threat to public finances, and had just started talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan programme when Saied ousted the prime minister.

Any further IMF talks could not take place until a new government was installed that could credibly discuss fiscal reforms wanted by foreign lenders.

Years of economic stagnation and declining public services, worsened by political paralysis, have soured many Tunisians on the form of democracy they adopted after the revolution, and Saied's intervention appeared to have widespread support.

Tunisia's powerful labour union, the UGTT, has also urged him to appoint a government and start dialogue to change the political system. UGTT officials were not immediately available for comment.

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