In the latest move to strengthen his grip on power, Tunisian President Kais Saied this week announced a series of measures that allow him to rule by decree.
The former constitutional lawyer said the decrees, which were published in the official gazette on Wednesday, were aimed at preventing a national emergency.
The provisions mean the continued suspension of the powers of the elected parliament and the suspension of judicial immunity for all politicians, measures that were taken on July 25 when Saied fired the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
They also stipulate the freezing of the salaries of politicians to allow him to govern only by declaration, ignoring parts of the constitution.
The moves were instantly rebuffed by Saied’s opponents, prompting warnings of further political instability amid growing opposition.
Tunisian analysts said the president’s interventions undermine the democratic gains made in the 2011 revolution against the autocratic government and the changes it brought about.
“The latest decrees completely contradict the 2014 constitution that established a parliamentary system,” said Adnen Mansar, president of the Center for Strategic Studies on the Maghreb (CESMA), adding that the decrees were in line with the 1959 constitution annulled by the uprising a decade ago that unleashed the so-called Arab Spring.
“This measure puts a brake on the principles of a democratic system,” he said.
Ahlem Hachicha, a Tunisian-based political analyst, described the changes as “unquestionable absolute power” for the president.
“After Saied detained the entire country for about two months … now he has come up with a set of rules that basically says that he has all forms of power, over all aspects of the private life of citizens, ruling all the public and private institutions, without any type of control and balance ”, said Hachicha.
“One person’s government is the opposite of democracy. We pay a high price to learn that and that is what people rejected in 2011, ”he added.
Seifeddine Ferjani, an independent Tunisian analyst, agreed: “Tunisia is clearly a dictatorship now.”
Saied, who won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential election, has denied having dictatorial aspirations and insists his moves are constitutional.
Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahdha party, the largest force in the now-suspended parliament, said the move meant canceling the constitution and urged Tunisians to take to the streets in a “peaceful struggle.”
Osama al-Khalifi, a senior official at the Heart of Tunisia, the second largest party in parliament, accused Saied of carrying out a “premeditated coup”.
“We call for a national alignment against the coup,” he said on Twitter.
Four other Tunisian parties, Attayar, Al Jouhmouri, Akef and Ettakatol, also rejected Saied’s move, saying on Thursday that the decrees enshrined an absolute monopoly of power and that the president had lost his legitimacy.
Anour Ben Kadour, a senior official in the influential UGTT union, which has around a million members and is a major force in Tunisian politics, said: “Tunisia is heading towards absolute individual government.”
Subsequently, the UGTT issued a statement asking Saied to consult experts before making decisions instead of “consulting his friends.”
Saied’s first steps two months ago came after years of political turmoil and a crippling economic crisis, including high inflation and unemployment, as well as a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The young democracy had often been cited as the only success story in the series of uprisings that sparked what became known as the Arab Spring.
But a decade later, Saied faced little popular resistance to his July 25 intervention, as Tunisians became frustrated by the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and saw little improvement in their living standards.
However, analysts said the situation has changed since then.
“Very few parties expressed their immediate opposition to Saied’s takeover on July 25,” Hachicha said. “[But] most civil society organizations were concerned.
“Over the weeks, the impatience grew and most of the actors have demanded clarifications and a roadmap,” he explained, adding that the latest decisions “did not provide such a thing.”
According to Mansar, there is “serious concern” among civil society and political groups, despite the fact that many of them support the July 25 measure.
“The latest move, in fact, has created a one-man rule,” Mansra said. “The response of political groups and civil society indicates the entry of Tunisia into a new phase of political instability,” added Mansar.
Civil society groups, political actors and trade unions have already started calling demonstrations to reject the presidential changes, raising the prospect of a “season of protests and counter-protests” that will have a negative effect on the economy, Ferjani told Al Jazeera. .
“The price of Tunisian commodities will probably increase in price, so there will be more uncertainty for the poorest Tunisians,” he said.
But “without real political leadership, a fragmented political scene and a divided society,” Hachicha said it was difficult to know whether they will succeed in overturning Saied’s decisions.