Tunisian president promises to announce PM soon - but emergency measures to stay

Leader vows 'no going back' to old parliament in impromptu speech on Monday

There is "no going back" to Tunisia's old parliament, President Kais Saied vowed in a national address late on Monday night.

He said the exceptional measures he invoked to consolidate control on July 25 would be prolonged.

In Mr Saied's impromptu speech on Monday evening, he announced that “transitional provisions” had been developed under which a new prime minister would be announced soon. He revealed plans for a new electoral law that he said responds to “the will of the people”.

The speech was broadcast live on national television from Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, after the president paid the city a surprise visit earlier in the day.

Mr Saied spoke in aggressive tones, repeatedly referring to “traitors” who had “sold out” the country, and alleging foreign interference as well as a plot to assassinate him.

On July 25, Mr Saied abruptly dismissed the government, took on all executive powers and suspended parliament following widespread anti-government protests.

“There are multiple challenges in delivering the will of the people. But we will win,” said Mr Saied in Monday’s speech. “We are determined to deliver the will of the people even if there are bad-intentioned people who want to create an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity.”

He went on to denounce the actions of Tunisia’s politicians over the past decade.

“I thought that certain people in the political class would deliver on their promises, but they just lied. Their objective was to repress free voices and to abort the revolution, that started on December 17 in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid. January 14 was the date of its sequestration.”

On Saturday, a few hundred supporters of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party and critics of Mr Saied turned out in central Tunis to denounce what they called a power grab.

Mr Said called the protestors “actors” in his speech on Monday.

“I came here today not to put on a show like what happened last Saturday," he said. "The actors involved in that protest in front of the municipal theatre are known, they paid people money [to come] but only a few dozen people attended.”

A few minutes into the speech’s transmission, social media users complained the signal had cut out. In a statement published to his Facebook page, Abdelraouf Beli, one of the executives of the National Union of Journalists, said: "The presidency told us what was going to happen just 15 minutes before, so we brought the closest equipment we had from the neighbouring town of Kasserine – the driver was driving at 160km to make it on time … we hope that the presidency will change its way of dealing with the media."

Some took to social media to criticise the president's speech.

“A hollow and belligerent speech,” wrote Selim Kharrat, a board member of Tunisian democratic watchdog Al Bawsala, on Twitter.

“He proposed nothing apart from insults.”

Calls for a road map out of the crisis from Tunisia’s civil society, MPs and its influential Labour Union have grown louder in recent weeks.

In the close to two months since Mr Saied announced the exceptional measures, he has yet to offer a way out of Tunisia’s triple health, economic and political crisis, or announce a new government.

Nevertheless, Mr Saied’s actions have received widespread approval among the Tunisian public, fatigued by years of economic instability and political deadlock. Cries of support from the audience could be heard during Mr Saied’s speech.

“We are hungry,” shouted one person. “We don’t want the Islamists” and “Kais Saied, please listen to us," said others.

Updated: September 21st 2021, 7:18 AM