By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian President Kais Saied on Saturday said he was preparing to change the country’s constitution, but said he would only do so using existing constitutional means, seven weeks after taking power by measures that his enemies have qualified as a coup d’etat.
The comments represented his clearest statement yet on what he intended to do next, having vowed there was “no looking back” on the situation in the North African nation before. his intervention on July 25.
Speaking live on television on a boulevard in central Tunis, Saied said he respected the democratic constitution of 2014, but that it was not eternal and could be amended.
“Amendments must be made within the framework of the constitution,” he told Sky News Arabia and Tunisian state television.
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One of Saied’s advisers told Reuters on Thursday that the president plans to suspend the constitution and come up with an amended version via a referendum, drawing opposition from political parties and the powerful UGTT union.
Concern has grown, both internally and among Western democracies that have supported Tunisia’s public finances, about Saied’s intentions since his July 25 announcement that he was sacking the prime minister and suspending parliament.
The former professor of constitutional law justified these measures by citing emergency measures in the constitution which, according to his detractors and many jurists, did not support his intervention.
Although he has extended the measures indefinitely after a month, he has yet to appoint a new government or make a clear statement of his long-term intentions, as Tunisia struggles to cope with a continuing economic crisis.
Saied also said on Saturday that he was on the verge of appointing a new government. Ambassadors from the Group of Seven Advanced Economies urged him this week to do so quickly and return to “a constitutional order, in which an elected parliament plays an important role.”
Saied’s intervention garnered broad support after years of political paralysis, but it plunged Tunisia into crisis a decade after rejecting autocracy and embracing democracy in the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring.
Political leaders have complained about the constitution since it was adopted in 2014, calling for it to be changed to a more directly presidential or more directly parliamentary system.
Article 144 of the constitution states that an amendment to the document can only be put to a referendum if it has already been approved by two-thirds of parliament, an institution that Saied last month called “danger to the world.” State “.
The current parliament was elected in 2019, a week after Saied was elected. It does not have the power to dissolve it and call a new election, but some of the parties in the deeply fragmented chamber have indicated that they could do it themselves.
Moderate Islamist Ennahda, the largest party in parliament with a quarter of the seats, accused Saied of carrying out a coup and said on Saturday that departing from the constitution would mean a withdrawal from democracy.
The UGTT, the main union in Tunisia, also signaled on Saturday that it opposed the idea of suspending the constitution and instead called for new parliamentary elections – a path Saied may now consider.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Nayera Abdallah, written by Angus McDowall, edited by Paul Simao)
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