Tuesday, 21 September, 2021

Tunisian president ousts PM amid Covid protests

Tunisian president ousts PM amid Covid protests

TUNIS: Street clashes erupted on Monday outside Tunisia’s army-barricaded parliament, a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended the legislature, plunging the young democracy into a constitutional crisis, reports AFP.

Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup”, following a day of angry street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.

Soldiers from early Monday blockaded the assembly in Tunis while, outside, the president’s supporters hurled volleys and stones at backers of Ennahdha, whose leader staged a sit-in to protest being barred entry.

Saied’s dramatic move—a decade on from Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, often held up as the Arab Spring’s sole success story—comes even though the constitution enshrines a parliamentary democracy and largely limits presidential powers to security and diplomacy.

It “is a coup d’etat against the revolution and against the constitution,” Ennahdha, which was the biggest party in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, charged in a Facebook post, warning that its members “will defend the revolution”.

The crisis follows prolonged deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.

“I have taken the necessary decisions to save Tunisia, the state and the Tunisian people,” Saied declared in a statement on Sunday, a day that had seen angry Covid street protests in multiple cities.

The president’s announcement sparked jubilant rallies by his supporters. Large crowds took to the streets of the capital late Sunday to celebrate and wave the national flag, as car horns sounded through the night and fireworks lit up the sky.

“Finally some good decisions!” said one Tunis protester, Maher, celebrating in defiance of a coronavirus curfew. Others held up signs with a simple message to the sacked government: “Game Over”.

Before the president’s announcement, thousands had marched in several cities protesting against Ennahdha, criticising the largest party in Tunisia’s fractious government for failures in tackling the pandemic.

A senior Ennahdha official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, alleged that the protests before the president’s announcement, and the subsequent celebrations, had all been choreographed by Saied.

“We are also capable of organising large demonstrations to show the number of Tunisians who are opposed to these decisions,” this official said. Since Saied was elected president in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and Ghannouchi, who is also house speaker.