Press release September 30, 2021
Tunisia: President’s Power Grab Tramples Democracy and Rule of Law
Brazen disregard for constitutional order and political pluralism will only exacerbate the country’s difficulties.
In response to Tunisian president Kaïs Saïed’s unilateral appointment of a new prime minister, two months after he suspended the parliament and claimed emergency powers, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“President Saïed’s antidemocratic actions since July 25 are inimical to good governance and must be reversed before further damage is done to the fundamental rights and interests of the Tunisian people,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The unchecked ability to make law by decree, which the president has claimed, represents a shocking rollback of the progress Tunisia has made in building its democracy, and will never succeed in addressing the complex policy challenges the country faces. We support the calls of activists, human rights organizations, labor unions, political parties, and foreign partners for the full restoration of the Tunisian constitution, whose provisions should only be changed through democratic means.”
On July 25, President Saïed dismissed the elected prime minister and government, suspended the parliament, and deployed security forces in the capital city of Tunis, claiming that the country faced “exceptional circumstances” related to antigovernment protests, a surge in COVID-19 cases, and a worsening economy. He invoked powers granted to the president under Article 80 of the 2014 constitution. While critics challenged his loose interpretation of the article, the political establishment’s long-standing failure to form a Constitutional Court as called for in the document left no institutional avenue for appeal.
On September 22, the president declared that he would legislate by decree and suspend any constitutional provisions that conflicted with his decisions. He also said that members of the suspended parliament would no longer receive their salaries. On September 29, President Saïed unilaterally appointed education official Najla Bouden Romdhan as the new prime minister.
Numerous politicians and business figures have been arbitrarily detained since July, when President Saïed asserted control over security and law enforcement agencies. Security forces also raided the Tunis offices of Al-Jazeera the day after Saïed dismissed the elected government, while other journalists have subsequently faced interference in their work. Travel bans and house arrests imposed on dozens of Tunisians have restricted freedom of movement, and many of those arrested have been charged with defamation for criticizing the authorities—a clear attack on freedom of expression.
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