Former Ennahdha lawmaker Dilou said the idea “would make Tunisia an object of ridicule”, while other members of the opposition condemned the decision.

Opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied criticized the decision to extend a months-long suspension of parliament, accusing him of dealing yet another blow to the country’s nascent democracy.

On Monday evening, President Saied said parliament would remain suspended until new elections on December 17, the anniversary of the start of the revolution that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.

He has vowed to continue reforms of the Tunisian political system after sacking the government, freezing the legislature and seizing sweeping executive powers in July.

The former constitutional law professor has announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “a draft of constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum on July 25 next year.

This will mark a year since taking power, which came as the North African country wallowed in political and economic crises made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

In October, Saied had decided to rule by decree, exacerbating fears for the only democracy resulting from the Arab uprisings of 2011.

Monday’s announcement effectively dissolved the current assembly dominated by its nemesis, the Ennahdha party, which has played a central role in Tunisian politics since the fall of Ben Ali.

While many Tunisians hailed Saied’s initiatives, he also faced growing opposition in the form of mass protests at home and pressure from abroad.

On Friday, emissaries from the G7 powers and the European Union urged Tunisia to set a timetable for a return to democratic institutions.

“I am the state”

Opponents accused Saied of seeking to extend his one-man rule and unilaterally remake the political system.

Former MP Hichem Ajbouni wrote on Facebook that Saied’s speech boiled down to: “I am the state, I am the president, I am the government, I am the parliament, I am the judiciary – and all those who oppose me are either power hungry, a liar, a traitor, a thief, an agent or an ignorant.

Still, some in Tunis hailed Saied’s latest move.

Nizar ben Ahmida, a 37-year-old teacher, stressed the importance of announcing a calendar. But he said the speech lacked details on “employment, poverty, marginalization and the prosecution of those who have committed crimes against this country.”

Nidhal, a resident of Tunis, said the election date was too far away.

“[Saied] play for time. He wants to implement his ideas, ”said the 35-year-old.

Saied said a consultation on constitutional reforms will be launched on January 1 via personalized electronic platforms.

These proposals would then be examined by a committee of experts appointed by the president, before being submitted to a referendum.

But former Ennahdha MP Samir Dilou said the idea “would make Tunisia ridiculous.”

“Saied’s speech reflects the state of denial in which he lives and his refusal to listen to anyone, neither his supporters nor his opponents,” he told the daily Assabah.

Tunisia faces growing public debt, inflation, an unemployment rate of 18% and stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for its fourth bailout since the revolution.

But the 63-year-old president has remained firmly focused on overhauling the political system and fighting opponents – mainly Ennahdha – whom he accuses of corruption.

After taking control of the judiciary in July, he pushed judges to investigate alleged foreign funding for election campaigns in the 2019 legislative elections.


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