President Kais Saied, who suspended the parliament and the immunity of deputies and dismissed Prime Minister Hisham Mechici, has said his moves are legitimate under the country’s constitution, arguing that article 80, after the extraordinary meeting held at the Carthage Palace. On the other hand, Tunisia’s Parliament Speaker Rashid Ghannouchi, who leads the Ennahda Movement, accused President Said of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution”.
The legitimacy of Saied’s decision depends on a generous reading of Article 80 in Tunisia’s constitution, which allows for the president to seize power temporarily in an emergency. However, the article also says the parliament speaker and prime minister must be consulted before any emergency powers are invoked. The issue could be adjudicated by the country’s constitutional court. However, there is no such institution in the country.
We spoke with Achouri Iyadh, Arab Nationalist Youth Coordinator in Tunisia, about the discussions on the 80th article.
How do you evaluate the debates on the constitution of Tunisia? Was it a coup or does it have a legitimate basis?
Firstly it has become necessary to reconsider the nature of Tunisia’s political system following frequent and successive political crises, as the amended parliamentary system has left only internal conflicts imported from external regional conflicts.
It is not possible in any way to talk about a democracy where the executive branch is fully handed over to those who don’t have popular and electoral legitimacy, the head of a government voted on by the parliament governed by regional powers. And the President of the Republic can only have simple powers related to diplomacy and national defense.
The sharp parliamentary dispute prevented the agreement on a government that has a majority vote, which made it into the hands of the President of the Republic, who put forward former Prime Minister Hisham al Meshishi, who then won a parliamentary majority, but was soon ordered by his parliamentary allies (belt), deepening the political crisis and leading to a rise in the level of violence in parliament.
In light of Tunisia’s political and economic crisis, pressure has increased on the institution of the presidency, which has won the confidence of the majority of the people. In doing so, it became necessary for the President of the Republic to act to ensure stability and the normal process of state institutions.
“Popular will and serious calls to change the political and electoral system”
With the growing popular tension, there is an unbridled popular will and serious calls for the presidency to hold a popular referendum to change the political system and the electoral system.
Other protest movements have also called for a state of emergency and the implementation of Article 80 of Tunisia’s constitution.
What does article 80 say?
“The President of the Republic, in a state of grave danger to the national being, the security and independence of the country, is able to take the measures necessitated by that exceptional situation, after consulting the Prime Minister and the head of the People’s Assembly and informing the President of the Constitutional Court, and announcing the measures in a statement to the people.”
The second paragraph of the same article “These measures must aim to ensure the return of normal state wheels as soon as possible, and the People’s Assembly (Parliament) is considered to be in permanent session throughout this period. In this case, the President of the Republic may not dissolve the People’s Assembly and no blame list may be submitted against the government.”
Third paragraph of Article 80 states that “30 days after these measures take effect, and all the time thereafter, the Constitutional Court is entrusted with the request of the head of the People’s Assembly or 30 of its members to decide whether or not the exceptional situation will continue or not.”
The last paragraph of the article “The Court publicly declares its decision within a maximum of 15 days, and ends the work of these measures with the disappearance of its causes. The President of the Republic makes a statement to the people.”
In addition to the government and parliamentary blockade of President Kais Said, there is now a kind of popular blockade that has forced him to act as soon as possible, announcing an emergency meeting in which the implementation of Article 80 was followed by a series of actions and measures.
What do you think about the objections?
The voices of those opposed to the president, who considered his decisions a coup against the constitution, also considered his interpretation of Article 80 to be non-constitutional, as this chapter of the Constitution necessarily requires the notification of the president of the Constitutional Court, which has not been installed since the declaration of the Constitution.
The legal custom is specific in this case, as the Constitutional Court has been ignored and dismissed in many of the cases it has required.
Under the current situation (the absence of a constitutional court) it cannot be considered a coup, but it can otherwise be adapted (the presence of a constitutional court) as a coup.
In addition, many expressed their surprise towards the freezing of parliament and considered it unconstitutional. However, the Constitution does not contain a legal provision prohibiting the freezing of parliament, but rather its dissolution. There is a huge difference between the two cases.
“Tunisian street supported the President’s decisions”
We also note in the last few days that, unlike the modest presence of pro Ennahda demonstrators and the government allies (belt) who went to the “frozen” parliament, the Tunisian street witnessed mass celebrations in various parts and states of Tunisia that supported the decisions of the President of the Republic, hoping that the political and economic situation would improve and that the homegiving gangs and corrupt lobbies would be eliminated.
Finally, the Tunisian people today have high hopes for recent decisions, decisions that may prevent poverty, marginalization and discrimination in order to adopt an inclusive homeland for all Tunisians, a sovereign homeland in which to live.
Achouri Iyadh is a cyber security engineer and the Coordinator of Arab Nationalist Youth in Tunisia.