Kais Saied says the 2014 charter is ‘not eternal’ and can be amended within existing constitutional means.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has announced plans to change the country’s constitution, seven weeks after he took office, calling his opponents a coup.
The comments on Saturday represent Saied’s clearest statement so far on what he intends to do next, after swearing there was “no return” to the situation in the North African country before his July 25 intervention.
Saied said live on television in a central Tunis boulevard that he respects the democratic constitution of 2014, but that it is not eternal and that it can be amended.
“Amendments must be made within the framework of the constitution,” he told the Sky News Arabia channel and Tunisian state television.
One of Saied’s advisers told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that the president intended to suspend the constitution and present an amended version through a referendum, leading opposition from political parties and the powerful UGTT trade union to followed.
Anxiety has increased, both internally and among Western democracies that have supported Tunisia’s public finances, over Said’s intentions since his July 25 announcement that he would fire the prime minister and suspend parliament.
The former professor of constitution justified these steps by citing emergency measures in the constitution that, according to his critics and many jurists, do not support his intervention. Although he has extended the measures to a month indefinitely, he still needs to appoint a new government or make a clear statement on his long-term intentions, as Tunisia is struggling to cope with an ongoing economic crisis.
Saied said on Saturday that he would form a new government “as soon as possible” after electing “the people with the most integrity”.
However, he did not want to give a specific timeline.
Ambassadors from the group of seven advanced economies this week urged the Tunisian president to quickly form a government and return to “a constitutional order in which an elected parliament plays an important role”.
Saied’s intervention drew widespread support after years of political paralysis, but it plunged Tunisia into a crisis, a decade after it eradicated autocracy and embraced democracy in the revolution caused by the Arab Spring.
Political leaders have complained about the constitution since the 2014 agreement, calling for it to be changed to a more direct presidential or more parliamentary system.
Article 144 of the constitution states that an amendment to the document can only be submitted to a referendum if it has already been approved by two-thirds of parliament, an institution that was said last month to be “a danger to the state”. .
The current parliament was elected in 2019, a week after Saied was elected. He does not have the power to dissolve it and eradicate new elections, but some of the parties in the deeply fragmented chamber have indicated that they can do it themselves.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda, the largest party in parliament with a quarter of the seats, accused Saied of carrying out a coup and said on Saturday that deviating from the constitution meant a withdrawal of democracy.
The UGTT, the most important trade union in Tunisia, also indicated on Saturday that it opposes the idea of suspending the constitution, and advocates for new parliamentary elections – a route that Saied can now consider.