Tunisia’s Political Crisis: Europe to Support Tunisia as Its President Extends Power Grab

Written by | Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

One of Europe’s leading human rights organizations says it will help Tunisia implement democratic reforms in the wake of a string of political controversies in the country over recent months. This came as Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has announced on state TV that he is dissolving the country’s parliament, eight months after suspending it in a power grab in July 2021. The decision came after 124 of 217 members of parliament held an online meeting despite the suspension. The Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, the Venice Commission, is also expected to advise Tunisia’s President on legal reforms with respect for human rights via its independent experts. Following the announcement, Venice Commission President Claire Bazy Malaurie held talks with Saied who has been involved in a series of political disputes in the past year.
In a statement issued after her meeting with Saied, Malaurie said that the Venice Commission is ready “to place its expertise at the service of the Tunisian people and to support the implementation of democratic reforms with respect for the rule of law and human rights.” But several Tunisian MPs who ignored Saied’s move and took part in a virtual session of the parliament are believed to be facing a judicial investigation. She said that the meeting with the Tunisian leader had included discussions on constitutional reform, the proposed July referendum and elections scheduled for December 2022. The Council of Europe official also met other senior Tunisian officials, including the country’s Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi who highlighted Tunisia’s commitment to the “democratic option,” adding that “the country is going through a reforms process that provides for the establishment of real and solid democracy, in line with the aspirations of Tunisians.”
Saied rebuffed accusations that by by dissolving the country’s parliament he has essentially extended his power grab, saying the move aims to “preserve the state and its institutions”. He denounced parliament’s move as a “coup attempt” and said those responsible had “betrayed” the nation. Tunisian parliamentarians voted to repeal presidential decrees suspending their chamber and giving Kais Saied near-total power, openly defying him in an online session, although he dismissed their meeting as illegal. Saied’s moves were initially welcomed by many Tunisians sick of the often deadlocked political system but now an increasing array of critics have said he has moved the country, which also faces a grinding economic crisis, down a dangerous path back towards autocracy.
Meanwhile, in a related by separate development, the European Union announced last week (29 March) it would lend Tunisia 450 million euros to support its budget as the North African country faces a looming crisis in public finances for which it is seeking an international rescue package. This came as credit rating agency Fitch this month downgraded Tunisian sovereign debt to junk status and the investment bank Morgan Stanley said it expected the government to default on loans. The Ukraine war has aggravated the government’s problems, causing price rises in fuel and grains, which are both subsidized in Tunisia. The EU also said it had allocated 200 million euros to Maghreb countries — which also include Algeria and Morocco — to help alleviate the impact of grain shortages resulting from the Ukraine crisis.

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