Tunisia’s largest parliamentary bloc Ennahdha gathered thousands of people on Saturday in a demonstration in support of the government amid a tug-of-war with President Kais Saied.
The Islamist-inspired Ennahdha and liberal parties Qalb Tounes pushed for a change of government by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in mid-January and introduced 11 new ministers.
Saied has strongly criticized the change – which was confirmed by parliament – and said he had not been heard and accused of suspecting some ministers of corruption and conflicts of interest.
He also refused to reaffirm the new ministers, including the Interior Ministry, Justice and Health, leaving the government paralyzed, in a country already plagued by economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.
Saturday’s protest in the capital Tunis was demanded by Ennahdha, and several protesters said they were gathering in support of the moderate Islamist party and of unity and democracy.
“We have a parliamentary system and it is not up to the president to decide who will govern,” said protesters Mohamed Khlif, who traveled from the coastal city of Sfax to take part in the demonstration.
“Democracy and the constitution must be respected,” he added.
Protesters around him sang “the people want national unity”.
Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi spoke to protesters on Saturday, demanding dialogue and unity between political forces.
Saied, an independent academic and constitutional law expert, has also dropped the procedure for appointing the new ministers, saying it was unconstitutional.
“I will not back down from my principles. I swore before God by laying my hand on the Qur’an to respect the Constitution,” Saied was quoted as saying earlier this month.
Tunisia’s constitution does not require Parliament’s approval for regular exchanges.
But in the absence of a constitutional court in Tunisia, the political crisis has dragged on for six weeks with no solution in sight to ease tensions between the president, parliament and government.
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The political conflict comes when Tunisia has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and its social and economic consequences.
A report published by the International Monetary Fund on Friday said that the “Covid-19 crisis exacerbates Tunisia’s socio-economic fragility” and “led to an unprecedented economic downturn”.
The IMF called for urgent reforms to reduce the budget deficit, which was estimated to have reached 11.5 percent of GDP by 2020.
It also made a series of recommendations, including restrictions on energy subsidies and a reduction in wage costs.