Tunisia president grants himself sweeping new powers

Tunisia president grants himself sweeping new powers, unilaterally ratifies international treaty
2 min read
16 August, 2021
Tunisian President Kais Saied has granted himself legislative authority after his power grab last month, unilaterally ratifying a treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency.
Saied unilaterally ratified a treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency [Getty]

Tunisian President Kais Saied has unilaterally granted himself legislative powers following his power grab last month by ratifying an international treaty.

On 25 July, Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and dissolved parliament, granting himself emergency powers. The move was characterised as a coup by Saied's critics amid fears for Tunisia's democracy.

The president also lifted immunity for members of parliament, detaining several lawmakers.

On Monday, Saied ratified a treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency. According to the Tunisian constitution, ratification of international treaties requires approval from the Tunisian parliament.

This was the first such instance of the president assuming legislative powers, which are normally the preserve of the now-dissolved Tunisian parliament.

Commenting on Saied's move, Mona Karim, a constitutional law professor told The New Arab's Arabic-language service: "Article 63 of the Constitution stipulates that the prime minister presents proposals for laws approving treaties, and laws related to the budget [to parliament].

"Articles 46 and 65 stipulate that treaties are presented as ordinary laws and are approved with a simple majority in the People's Assembly (the Tunisian parliament) with the attendance of no less than one-third of its members," she added.

She stressed that treaties do not become effective without parliamentary approval.

Perspectives

Karim said that it was "impossible to discuss the constitutionality" of Saied's unilateral ratification of the treaty.

Saied previously justified his power grab under Article 80 of the constitution which gives the president the power to take "emergency measures" in case of a threat to the integrity of the state.

However, Article 80 does not give the president the power to dissolve parliament and states that it must remain in session.

"In light of the continued suspension of parliament, the president will issue urgent laws, agreements, and treaties, and may go further and issue an election or organizational law… even though there is no constitutional text for him to fall back on for this," Karim added.

Since his power grab on 25 July, Saied has appointed new ministers without approval from the parliament he dissolved.

The suspension of parliament lasts 30 days and to date Saied has not announced any plan for Tunisia to return to constitutional governance following his power grab.