Middle East

Tunisian president says country run by 'mafia'

FILE: Tunisian presidential candidate and law professor Kais Saied speaks during a press conference in Tunis on September 17, 2019, following the announcement of official results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election. (AFP / ANIS MILI)

TUNIS: Tunisia's President Kais Saied said Tuesday that the country is being run by a "mafia" and pledged to fight corrupt politicians.

"This is a state with two regimes, an apparent regime, that of the institutions, and a real regime, that of the mafia that governs Tunisia," Saied said in a video posted on the presidency's Facebook page.

"I will not engage in dialogue with thieves," he added.

Saied, a legal theorist and former law professor, was elected in 2019 and has billed himself as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

He invoked that power on July 25 to fire the prime minister, freeze parliament and strip MPs of their immunity, and assume all executive powers.

He has also taken control of the judiciary.

His power grab came amid chronic legislative infighting that had crippled governance. It was followed by a sweeping anti-corruption drive that has included detentions, travel bans and house arrests of politicians, businessmen and judicial officials.

Saied has yet to appoint a new government or reveal a roadmap towards normalisation, despite repeated demands by political parties.

Over the weekend he said there would soon be nominations for a new government and spoke of a reform of the constitution.

"The government is coming," he said Tuesday, "but we need to know what policy it will implement. The aim is to meet the demands of the Tunisian people."

"Dealing with thieves or traitors is out of the question," he added.

His moves have been criticised by judges and opponents.

But some Tunisians, exasperated by their political class and its perceived corruption, impunity and failure to improve living standards more than a decade since the country's protests launched the Arab Spring, see them as a necessary evil.

Tunisian media have been speculating that Saied might announce a provisional government followed by a revision of the constitution, to be submitted to a national referendum, before holding legislative elections.

He has justified his recent decisions by citing Article 80 of the constitution, which envisages exceptional measures in case of "imminent danger" to national security.

The Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, the largest bloc in parliament and Saied's main rival, said it "categorically rejects" any suspension of the constitution or "change to the political system, including through a referendum".





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