By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian President Kais Saied is considering suspending the constitution and could change the political system via a referendum, one of his advisers told Reuters on Thursday in the first clear indication of his plans after his critics called to a coup.
More than six weeks after Saied took power, sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament on July 25, he still has not appointed a new government or made a broader statement on his long-term intentions.
“This system cannot continue… changing the system means changing the constitution through a referendum, maybe… the referendum requires logistical preparation,” said Walid Hajjem, adviser to Saied.
He added that this was the president’s plan, which is in the final stages and is expected to be officially unveiled soon, but he did not elaborate on what changes Saied is considering.
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Saied’s intervention plunged Tunisia into a constitutional crisis, raising concerns about the future of the democratic system it adopted after the 2011 revolution that led to the Arab Spring.
Saied is generally expected to move to a presidential system of government that would reduce the role of parliament, which has been frequently discussed during years of stalemate since the 2014 constitution was passed.
He defended his demarches as necessary and said they were in line with the constitution, pledged to respect the rights of Tunisians and said he would not become a dictator.
However, arrests of parliamentarians after Saied lifted their immunity and numerous travel bans against prominent figures have alarmed some rights activists.
National and international forces pushed Saied to appoint a government and show how he intends to emerge from the constitutional crisis caused by his intervention.
The head of the Tunisian Human Rights League was quoted in a Tunisian newspaper on Thursday as saying that Saied had informed him that a new government would be appointed this week.
Tunisia faces serious economic problems and an imminent threat to public finances, and had just started talks with the International Monetary Fund for a new lending program when Saied ousted the prime minister.
No further discussions with the IMF could take place until a new government was put in place and could credibly discuss the tax reforms desired by foreign lenders.
Years of economic stagnation and declining public services, compounded by political paralysis, embittered many Tunisians about the form of democracy they adopted after the revolution, and Saied’s intervention appears to have broad support.
This week, ambassadors from the G7 Wealthy Democracy Group urged Saied to appoint a government and return Tunisia to a constitutional order in which an elected parliament has played an important role.
The powerful Tunisian union, the UGTT, also urged him to appoint a government and start a dialogue to change the political system. UGTT officials were not immediately available for comment.
Officials of the largest party in parliament, moderate Islamist Ennahda, who has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s measures, were also not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)
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