Tunisian parliament holds online session in defiance to President Kais Saied

A man holds Tunisian national flags during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia.

Tunisian members of parliament defied President Kais Saied on Wednesday by holding their first full session since last summer when he suspended the chamber and moved to one-man rule.

Some 120 MPs attended the online session and were expected to hold a vote against the “exceptional measures” Saied has used since July to brush aside the 2014 democratic constitution and govern himself.

The move represents parliament’s most direct challenge to Saied, who has dismissed it as being “of the past” and who late on Monday issued a stern warning that forces would confront “those who pushed Tunisians to fight”.

The meeting started after an hour’s delay. Journalists and other people in Tunis said the connection to Zoom and Teams applications had stopped working temporarily though it was not clear if the problem was connected to the political situation.

The session was chaired by the Deputy Speaker Tarek Ftiti who said that 120 lawmakers took part.

While the session may underscore increasing opposition to Saied and will challenge the legitimacy of his moves, it is not likely to alter his grip on power.

“We are not afraid to defend a legitimate institution,” said Yamina Zoglami, a parliament member from the moderate Islamist Ennahda.

“The people did not withdraw confidence from us. The president closed parliament with a tank.”

Parliament’s increased confidence reflects broadening opposition to Saied as he tries to rewrite the constitution, take control of the judiciary and impose new restrictions on civil society.

Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament with a quarter of the seats, and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, who is parliamentary speaker, have been the most vocal critics of Saied.

Although political parties remain deeply divided against each other, more of them are now openly rallying against Saied and demanding he adopt an inclusive approach to any efforts to restructure the country’s politics.

Tunisia threw off autocratic rule in a 2011 revolution and introduced democracy, but its system that shared power between president and parliament has proven unpopular after years of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

Saied, a political newcomer and constitutional law professor, was elected in 2019 in a landslide second-round victory against a media mogul who was facing corruption charges, and he promised to clean up Tunisian politics.

His critics accuse him of staging a coup last summer when he ousted the elected parliament and moved to one-man rule, saying his political reforms lack credibility.

As the economy moves towards disaster with the government seeking an international bailout and the powerful labour union warning of a general strike, many Tunisians have grown disillusioned with his focus on constitutional change.

However, Saied’s intervention last summer appeared to be immensely popular with a country sick of the political squabbling that had characterised a democratic era in which jobs grew scarce and public services declined.

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