Tunisian President Kais Saied promised on Monday to name a prime minister, but said the emergency measures he announced in July would remain in effect.
“These exceptional measures will continue and a prime minister will be appointed, but on the basis of transitional failures that respond to the will of the people,” he said in a televised speech from Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the 2011 Tunisian revolution.
On July 25, Saied removed the government, suspended parliament, lifted legislators’ immunity, and took charge of the prosecution.
Since then, it has renewed the measures for a second 30-day period and has not responded to requests for a roadmap to lift them.
Saied has repeatedly insisted that his actions are in line with the North African country’s post-revolutionary constitution, according to which the head of state can take “exceptional measures” in the event of an “imminent danger” to national security.
Speaking to a large crowd on Monday, Saied, a staunch opponent of the country’s parliamentary system, said the legislature had become “a market where votes are bought and sold.”
“How can they be representatives of the people while their votes are bought and sold in parliament and sessions are paused so that the price can be agreed?” I ask.
The crowd repeatedly interrupted his speech with shouts of “the people want parliament to be dissolved.”
The national television station Watania, which broadcast the speech live, repeatedly cut off and eventually promised to broadcast a recorded version, prompting ridicule online.
‘Selling the country’
Saied, a political outsider, came to power in 2019 following a wave of public outrage against political parties widely seen as corrupt and selfish.
Without naming his opponents, Saied on Monday accused the “traitors” of “selling the country.”
“This is not a problem of a government, but of a whole system,” he said.
He repeated three times: “Sovereignty belongs to the people!”
Saied delivered his speech to a noisy crowd in front of the Sidi Bouzid municipality, where Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller angered by police harassment, set himself on fire in December 2010.
Bouazizi’s act sparked an unprecedented uprising that left some 300 people dead and toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sparking a series of riots across the region.
>> Tunisia: Ten years later, a bittersweet legacy for the cradle of the Arab Spring
Tunisia has earned praise for its democratic transition, but a decade later, many Tunisians feel that their quality of life has worsened in the face of crippling economic, social and political crises, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many Tunisians took to the streets on July 25 in support of Saied’s movements.
But human rights groups have warned that the measures that include military trials of some opponents of Saied reflect a worrying trend toward authoritarianism.
The measures have also drawn harsh criticism from his arch nemesis, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which formed the largest bloc in parliament before its dissolution by the president.
Several hundred protesters, many of them Ennahdha supporters, marched through central Tunis on Saturday to demand the return of parliamentary democracy.