| 23 February 2024, Friday |

Tunisia: president reaffirms respect for constitution

Tunisian President Kais Saied has changed his tone of speech, after a month and a half of fiery rhetoric, to reaffirm his respect for and commitment to the constitution. The move “with the possibility of amending some [constitutional] text” is his response to widespread condemnation in Tunisia of the intention to suspend the current constitution and replace it with a new one.

“I respect the constitution, but its texts could be amended,” he told the media on Saturday evening, “because the people are exasperated with the legal texts tailored to the needs of the others. Amendments can be made in order to respond to the people’s demands. We do not advocate chaos; the people have the right to express their will freely.”

Saied also confirmed his intention to appoint a new prime minister in the coming days. “I am seeking to choose someone honest who can be trusted,” he explained.

His comments came hours after a young Tunisian man set himself on fire in the capital for what the authorities said are unknown reasons. However, the incident followed condemnation of Saied’s advisor Walid Hajjam, who “confirmed” the president’s intention to change the political regime in the country. He pointed out that this requires suspending the constitution and preparing a new one to be submitted to a popular referendum for approval.

The president’s statements also coincided with a series of meetings held by Noureddine Taboubi, the Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) — often described as the most powerful political partner in the country — with several political parties, including the Democratic Current Party and the Free Destourian Party. The latter includes a number of Ben Ali regime figures, and its leader, Abir Moussi, has confirmed that its views on solutions to the crisis in Tunisia match those of the UGTT. She criticised the attempt by political parties to disrupt the relationship with the union, adding that it is “our home”.

According to Ghazi Chaouachi, the Secretary-General of the Democratic Current, his party supports the UGTT proposals to help the country get out of its current difficulties. “Especially,” he added, “with regard to accelerating the development of a road map to get the country out of its political, economic, social and healthcare crises, particularly in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Taboubi, meanwhile, called on President Saied not to deviate from constitutional legitimacy, but said that the union agrees to the need for change. “However, this must be done in accordance with the law and institutions and within the framework of the constitution.” He called for an early parliamentary election that leads to “a new parliament, after which the constitution will be discussed and the political system will be changed.”

In an indirect message to the president, UGTT spokesman Sami Tahri said, “There are only two paths, there is not a third one: either participation and dialogue, according to certain conditions, of course, or authoritarianism and dictatorship, and what they will lead to in terms of final submission to external diktats.”