Tunisia’s Ennahdha party has asked the speaker of parliament to work towards resuming the assembly’s work, in what appears to be the first challenge to President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend parliament two months ago.
The party’s call on Wednesday comes after Saied suspended the assembly and sacked the government on July 25 as part of exceptional measures that his opponents described as a coup. Last week, Saied announced the abolition of most parts of the constitution and said he would rule by presidential decree.
Separately, at least 73 out of 217 MPs from various parliamentary blocs signed on Wednesday a statement rejecting Saied’s decision that he would rule by decree instead of via parliament, and called for the resumption of parliamentary sessions in early October.
In a joint statement, the signatories called all parties to “unite” and “overcome differences to defend the values of the republic and democracy”.
The MPs expressed their “refusal to transfer all executive, legislative and judicial powers to the hands of one person”. The move, they said, disrupts the Tunisian constitution and risks “absolute authoritarian rule,” they added.
The statement came after the president named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a geologist with little government experience, as Tunisia’s first woman prime minister earlier on Wednesday.
Domestic and international pressure
Saied asked Romdhane, a little-known professor of geophysics who implemented World Bank projects at the education ministry, to form a government as quickly as possible.
The 62-year-old will take office at a time of national crisis, with the democratic gains won in a 2011 revolution in doubt and as a substantial threat looms over public finances.
Elected in 2019, Saied has been under domestic and international pressure to name a government after he dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority in moves his foes call a coup.
Saied’s moves placed vast executive powers in the hands of the president, who will himself head the cabinet.
Ennahdha’s statement underscores how parties in parliament may challenge the legality of any government appointed without the consent of the suspended chamber.
Following the appointment of the prime minister, Saied spoke with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel’s office said she had told him it was essential to return to parliamentary democracy in dialogue with other political players.
A senior Tunisian politician told the Reuters news agency last week that a new prime minister would face a daunting inbox as most government work had ground to a halt over the past two months and a vast array of files needed urgent attention.
The country faces a rapidly looming public finance crisis after years of economic stagnation were aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and political infighting.
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.
Earlier this week, many political parties opposing his latest moves announced a coalition to opposed Saied’s moves to seize governing powers.