Tunisia’s parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi has declared the assembly in session, urging lawmakers to resume work, defying President Kais Saied’s suspension of the assembly in a new escalation of the country’s political crisis.
Ghannouchi’s declaration on Friday looks set to deepen a dispute over the legitimacy of Saied’s seizure of control of most legislative and executive powers in July, a move the president’s opponents called a coup.
“The office of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People is in permanent session,” Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, said in a tweet.
Elected in 2019, Saied has been under domestic and international pressure to name a government after his intervention in July, when he dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
On Wednesday he named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a geologist with little government experience, Tunisia’s first woman prime minister.
Last week, President Saied suspended most of the constitution, saying he could rule by decree during an “exceptional” period with no set ending, calling into question democratic gains after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring protests.
Parliament remains frozen and its members stripped of their immunity, salaries and other privileges.
Earlier on Friday, security forces surrounded the parliament in anticipation of the arrival of lawmakers from Ennahdha, the largest party in parliament, and its ally – Qalb Tounes.
Reporters from the AFP news agency saw uniformed and plain-clothes police using metal barriers to encircle the building in Le Bardo district of Greater Tunis, blocking access for pedestrians and cars.
More than 80 deputies, mostly from the Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes, had called for members of the 217-seat assembly to gather outside and demand it be reopened.
Yet, despite dozens of MPs joining calls for a gathering to demand entry to parliament, AFP reporters only saw one.
“As a member of parliament, I’ve come to resume my work at parliament, but I found the doors closed, said Mohamed Goumani from Ennahdha.
Supporters of Saied accosted him as plain-clothed police looked on.
“Resign! Why did you come to parliament? You’ve already been here for 10 years! You don’t have any shame,” said a man in his 70s.
While many Tunisians have backed Saied and see his actions as necessary to remove a corrupt and unpopular political elite after years of economic stagnation, his critics from across the spectrum have said he is inexperienced and uncompromising.
Supporters and opponents of Saied are planning demonstrations in the capital on Sunday.