'No going back' - Tunisia's President plans to suspend the constitution

Close adviser says Kais Saied will present a new political vision for the country soon

Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks during a news conference after the announcement of the results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
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Tunisian President Kais Saied intends to suspend the constitution and may offer changes to the political system through a referendum, a key adviser told Sky News Arabia Thursday.

In late July, Mr Saied sacked the government, froze Parliament and assumed sole control of the country. His aide's comments are the first indication of the president's intentions for Tunisia's future.

"There will be no going back to the previous system," adviser Walid Hajjem said.

“There is going to be a change to the political system in Tunisia, moving towards something more just, with more defined responsibilities and with a greater opportunity to exercise necessary power.”

Since the days just after the 2011 uprising, Mr Saied has campaigned for a radically decentralised government with a strong presidency and local councils that would manage Tunisia's affairs.

A populist without a party, he has long railed against the partisan nature of the Parliament, and many analysts believe the coming changes may propose eliminating the legislature altogether.

There has been growing pressure on Mr Saied from domestic and foreign allies to release a roadmap out of the crisis. Civil society groups, ambassadors from the Group of Seven wealthy nations, and two US senators have urged him to reveal his plans and return the country to a democratic path.

This week the influential General Tunisian Workers' Union, or UGTT, indicated it supported reforming the political process, but said transparency and a roadmap was essential.

UGTT secretary general Noureddine Taboubi said at a meeting on Wednesday that the union would support working to “build a civil, democratic, social state" that guarantees "justice, fairness, rule of law".

Mr Saied will soon share his plan with the country, Mr Hajjem, told Reuters on Thursday. He said "changing the system means changing the constitution through a referendum".

Habib Sayah, a Tunisian political risk analyst, says a referendum would provoke a great number of questions.

Unlike the 2014 constitution, which was drafted over three years by an elected constituent assembly, a new constitution would be largely the work of Mr Saied and a small group of advisers.

"Is he going to give us an opportunity to debate his vision, propose some amendments and give him some reality checks?" Mr Sayah asked.

Since taking sole power, Mr Saied has become increasingly isolated, refusing to talk with political parties or civil society organisations.

The last meeting between the president and Mr Taboubi was the day after the initiation of the exceptional period, on July 26.

Mr Saied had broad popular support for his move early on from a populace exasperated by months of political deadlock, economic downturn and an untenable Covid-19 situation. But as momentum slowed from the palace, many of his supporters have grown anxious to see their president fulfil his promises.

Mr Taboubi warned that their support and patience should not be taken for granted.

"The Tunisian people can trust those in charge and give them the necessary time, but they are able to tell the difference between the truth and allegations," he said.

Updated: September 10, 2021, 12:30 AM