Tunisia’s president dismissed the government and froze parliament on Sunday in a dramatic escalation of the country’s political crisis following a day of protests around the country.
President Kais Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister, in the biggest challenge yet to a 2014 constitution that split powers between the president, prime minister, and parliament.
Tunisians rose up in a revolution in 2011 against decades of autocracy, installing a democratic system that ensured new freedoms but has not delivered economic prosperity.
“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery, and robbery of the rights of the people,” Saied said in a statement carried on state media.
“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons… and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
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Soon after the statement, cars filled the streets of Tunis in defiance of a COVID-19 curfew, as supporters of Saied honked horns and cheered from the windows.
The president has been enmeshed in political disputes with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi for over a year, as the country grapples with an economic crisis, a looming fiscal crunch, and flailing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the biggest in parliament, accused Saied of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution” in a phone call to Reuters.
“We consider the institutions still standing, and the supporters of the Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” he added, raising the prospect of confrontations between supporters of Ennahda and Saied.
In his statement, Saied said his actions were in line with Article 80 of the constitution, and also cited the article to suspend the immunity of members of parliament.
Saied and the parliament were both elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government.
Disputes over Tunisia’s constitution were intended to be settled by a constitutional court. However, seven years after the constitution was approved, the court has yet to be installed after disputes over the appointment of judges.