Tunisian parliamentary speaker leaves hospital after short stay

Ennahda party head Rached Ghannouchi, who has had Covid-19, was admitted for treatment on Sunday

Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker.

Tunisia’s powerful parliamentary speaker was admitted to hospital on Sunday for a few hours, two advisers said.

Rached Ghannouchi, 80, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, has led opposition to last week's move by President Kais Saied to seize governing powers, dismiss the prime minister and suspend Parliament.

“After a few hours in the military hospital, Ghannouchi returned home and he is fine now,” an adviser said.

Mr Ghannouchi, who spent a week in hospital last month with Covid-19, was also taken for treatment on Saturday and discharged.

His advisers did not say what condition had prompted his latest hospital visit.

Ennahda, which was suppressed before the 2011 uprising that introduced democracy to Tunisia, has become the most consistently powerful political party, backing successive coalition governments and helping to agree the 2014 constitution.

But economic stagnation, declining services and a public perception of increased corruption have dented its support and President Saied’s declaration appears to have widespread support.

On Sunday, the Tunisian president said he was in contact with “friendly countries” to cut the country's financial deficit, without giving details, according to a video posted on the presidency's Facebook page.

Tunisia's fiscal deficit and public debt both grew sharply last year as a result of the pandemic and the government has been in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a loan deal.

The fiscal deficit has reached 10% of gross domestic product, aggravated by a decline in revenue due to a reduction in economic activity and tax deferral measures, along with the costs of the Covid-19 response programme, according to the World Bank's latest data.

“The pandemic has exacerbated these problems, with hundreds of deaths per day and severe restrictions on movement. The country desperately needs international loans to balance its budget, and it is not clear where the money will come from,” said International Crisis Group North Africa Project Director Riccardo Fabiani.

“[Mr] Saied will inevitably be forced to adopt austerity measures, which will likely prove unpopular. This reinforces the likelihood that the July 25 events signal a turn towards more authoritarian rule,” he said.

Real GDP contracted by 9.3 per cent in 2021, as sharp declines in domestic and external demand followed the pandemic, the World Bank said.

An 80 per cent decline in passenger arrivals also caused a downturn in tourism and transport, it said.

Mr Ghannouchi, who called the government’s dismissal a coup, faces internal dissent within the Ennahda party over his handling of the current crisis and his strategic choices since the 2019 election.

Party figures regard the crisis as the biggest Ennahda has faced since 2011 and a growing number of members have called on him to quit. On Friday, he postponed a meeting of the party’s powerful Choura Council at short notice.

Updated: August 02, 2021, 12:38 PM