On September 22, 2021, Tunisian President Kais Saied issued Presidential Decree No. 117 of 2021 to maintain the suspension of powers of the Tunisian parliament. The decree suspends all judicial immunity for members of the parliament as well.
On July 23, 2021, the president had announced the suspension of Tunisia’s parliament and fired Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi and the cabinet. Saied’s announcement came one day after protesters had clashed with security forces over how the Tunisian government and the parliamentary group and political Islamist movement Ennahda, leading the parliament with 52 members, had handled the health care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the economic situation in the country.
Text of the Decree
Presidential Decree No. 117 of 2021 transfers the parliament’s legislative powers to the head of the executive branch, the president of the republic. (Presidential Decree No. 117 of 2021, art. 3.) According to the decree, all legislation will be issued via presidential decrees, not laws. (Art. 4.)
The decree grants the president the power to issue decrees regulating the following sectors: the organization of justice and the judiciary; the press; political parties; unions; associations; domestic organizations; public order; internal security forces and customs; electoral law; freedoms and human rights; personal status; and the organic budget law.
The decree stipulates that the cabinet headed by the prime minister will assist the president in governing the republic. (Art. 8.) The decree also provides that the president of the republic represents the state and sets its general policy and its basic choices. (Art. 9.)
Under the decree, the president of the republic exercises the following functions:
- Acting as the supreme commander of the armed forces.
- Declaring war and concluding peace following the deliberation of members of the cabinet.
- Creating, amending, and abolishing the functions of certain ministries.
- Creating, modifying, and abolishing the functions of public institutions and establishments.
- Dismissing one or more members of cabinet.
- Performing the accreditation of the country’s diplomats abroad and accepting the accreditation of representatives of foreign countries.
- Appointing and dismissing all senior government officials.
- Ratifying bilateral and multilateral treaties.
- Exercising the right to pardon convicted individuals. (Art. 12.)
When the position of the president of the republic becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or complete disability, the prime minister is to immediately assume the duties of the presidency of the republic. (Art. 14.)
The decree allows only the Preamble to and Chapters One and Two of the Constitution to be implemented. It repeals all other constitutional provisions that violate the provisions of the decree. (Art. 20.)
Finally, the decree abolishes the governmental Authority to Monitor the Constitutionality of Bills. (Art. 21.)
On September 30, 2021, the president named Najla Bouden Romdhane as the first female prime minister of the Tunisian Cabinet.
Reaction to the Issuance of Decree No. 117 of 2021
On September 27, 2021, a group of 18 domestic and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Association of Tunisian Women for Development Research, and the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms, issued a joint statement rejecting Presidential Decree No. 117 of 2021. The joint statement describes the decree as the first step towards authoritarianism. It also adds that the decree threatens the human rights and democratic process of the country.
Additionally, Ennahda has called Decree No. 117 a coup against legitimacy and a power monopoly by the president of the country. The head of Ennahda and the speaker of the parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, has declared that the parliament is still in session and urged lawmakers to resume work, defying Presidential Decree No. 117.On the other hand, various news media outlets have reported that as many as 8,000 people had rallied in the streets of Tunis on October 3, 2021, in support of the president’s decision to maintain the suspension of the legislative branch.