Billed as a success story in the Middle East, Tunisia’s fragile experiment with democracy increasingly looks like it’s coming to a shuddering halt.

With an announcement on social media, Tunisian President Kais Saied declared he would begin ruling by decree, plunging the country further down the path of one-man rule.

No public or television appearances were made by Saied, an indication of the growing confidence in wielding his newfound powers.

In addition to further extending the suspension of parliament and stripping MPs of their salaries, Saied announced that he would be taking on legislative and executive powers despite explicit constitutional prohibitions.

“[The] announcements make it clear and obvious that this is a coup against democracy and the constitution,” declared Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington DC.

“The declarations are clearly illegal and unconstitutional, and I believe there will be mounting opposition to this illegal coup,” he added, speaking to TRT World.

Two months since Saied activated Article 80 of the constitution, giving himself sweeping powers under the guise of saving the country from increasing political polarisation, he has offered little to no plan on a return to parliamentary democracy.

Critics of Saied have warned for months that Saied’s power grab was the plan from the very beginning.

Now, as part of the late-night declaration Saied also announced that he will hand-select a committee that will amend the constitution as he sees fit.

After years of painstaking negotiation, the Tunisian parliament almost overwhelmingly approved the Tunisian constitution in 2014.

“All democrats in Tunisia and around the globe must clearly condemn this coup,” warns Masmoudi adding that, “the so-called government [Saied] wants to appoint must be deemed illegal and therefore, illegitimate.”

Tunisia’s security apparatus has largely stood by Saied, ultimately strengthening his political hand and leaving democratically elected parties in the country hesitant about a potential crackdown.

When in 2011, an uprising toppled the longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the military stood aside as he was swept from power. Now the military has played a seemingly decisive new role.

“The Tunisian military must be convinced to retreat and stay out of politics. This is a political crisis that must be resolved through political means, and the army must remain neutral, “warns Masmoudi.

Increasingly, however, retreat seems unlikely as Saied pushes ahead with a vision that also has the military’s backing.

Umberto Profazio, a North Africa researcher at The International Institute for Strategic Studies warns that since Saied’s “unprecedented escalation” in July, the country is still “plunged in uncertainty.”

Decisions taken by Saied since then have done little to quell worries that the current “authoritarian drift” will not return the country to the dark old days of Ben Ali’s era, says Profazio speaking to TRT World.

In the medium-term, Saied’s intention to run the country through decrees “highlights his mistrust of political parties, his indifference to the civil society organisations and his desire to have a direct interface with the people, without the mediation of other political bodies, a feature that is common to other populist leaders alike,” added Profazio.

The country’s most powerful labour organisation, the ‘Tunisian General Labour Union’ UGTT, which initially supported Saied’s power grab, has increasingly become weary of the President’s intentions.

Only last week, the UGTT called for an end to the persistent “ambiguity”, resulting in a “state of general paralysis” afflicting most of the state’s organs. The Union also called for the principle of “social dialogue” that resulted in a measure of success in avoiding the bloodshed seen in other post-Arab spring societies to be respected.

Saied’s late-night announcement strongly indicates that the president is in no mood to engage in social dialogue.

Going forward, Profazio warns that the President’s attempts to “change the rules of the game” at this stage could push the country back into a “transitional state.”

Saied’s changes “could deeply alter the institutional architecture,” says Profazio, ultimately “undermining its checks and balances and moving Tunisia towards a fully-fledged presidential system with clear authoritarian tendencies, which are common to the region.”

Source: TRT World





Source link