Tunisian President rejects amendments to Constitutional Court law | Khaled Hedoui

TUNIS — Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday refused to sign amendments to the law on the Constitutional Court introduced by parliament, fearing they would limit his powers and be used to overthrow him, according to political sources in the country.

The creation of a Constitutional Court has turned into a new showdown between the President and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi, exacerbating tensions that had arisen from a long series of political battles for control of the country.

Since the first months of Saied’s presidency, the leader of the Islamist movement Ennahda, the ruling party, Ghannouchi has reportedly planned to depose Saied or at least limit his powers, with the aim of strengthening his party’s hold on the institutions. state legislative and executive.

On Sunday, the Tunisian president sent a letter to Ghannouchi, rejecting the amendments and calling for respect for all provisions of the constitution. Political figures, however, have suggested that the president’s rejection was politically motivated.

“It is clear that the rejection does not follow from a constitutional reading. Rather, there is a political context, as the amendments to the law on the Constitutional Court came amid growing tensions between the president and the speaker of parliament,” said activist and political analyst Tarek Kahlaoui.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Kahlaoui explained, “The establishment of the Constitutional Court now amounts to the political impeachment of the president amid hostile moves targeting the presidency. It is a risk and a bet, because the current political context does not guarantee any party full control over the Constitutional Court.

Kahlaoui did not rule out that the president could submit a bill to amend the law in line with his own vision, but it would be difficult to obtain the approval of parliament, which is dominated by the Ennahda movement.

On March 25, parliament introduced amendments to the law on the court, after failing eight times to complete the election of its members, with only one in four members elected due to political disputes.

The parliament approved the ratified revisions to the bill for the election of members of the Constitutional Court and reduced the number of votes from 145 to just 131.

Handwritten letter from Kais Saied to Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi. (Tunisian Presidency)

The amendment was proposed by Ghannouchi to reduce the number of votes constitutionally required to pass the members of the court to 109 votes representing an absolute majority.

Observers believe Ennahda can secure the number of votes needed to push some candidates through to the Constitutional Court, warning against an attempt by Ghannouchi to create a biased court that Islamists would later use to target opponents, including the president .

Ennahda has the majority in parliament (52 seats) and is allied with Qalb Tounes (38 seats) and the Dignity Coalition (21 deputies).

“The president’s rejection was expected, especially after his meeting with constitutional law experts,” said Hatem Meliki, an independent MP.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Meliki said “the president can propose a constitutional amendment.”

“Saied sent a political message, noting that it is not possible to violate the constitution and that the issue cannot be addressed within the framework of a political agreement aimed at his removal and the use of the Constitutional Court. as a tool by parliamentary parties,” Meliki told The Arab Weekly.

Regarding the president’s concerns about the role of some political parties, particularly Ennahda, Meliki said, “There are statements from ruling coalition parties that the president will be removed from office by the court, and if the ‘goal of the court is this, then such a decision will damage its credibility.

“In my opinion, dialogue is necessary to resolve the crisis,” he added, noting that the political parties supporting the government want to contain the president’s intrusion and his strict interpretation of the constitutional text.

“Constitutional amendments are inevitable to ensure a political process that would allow the establishment of a Constitutional Court and the de-escalation of current tensions,” Meliki said.

The Constitutional Court is a judicial body which was approved by the 2014 constitution and comprises 12 members, 4 elected by parliament, 4 chosen by the Superior Council of the Judiciary (an independent constitutional institution) and 4 appointed by the President of the Court. Republic.

The court reviews the constitutionality of bills, treaties, bills and internal rules of parliament. It decides on the extension of the state of emergency and resolves disputes on these issues.

The Constitutional Court can also terminate the mandate of the president of the republic, declare the office of president vacant, administer the presidential oath and examine disputes related to the competence of the president and the prime minister.

Republican Party Secretary General Issam Chebbi said: “Constitutionally, the president has every right to reject any amendment, but politically speaking, Saied’s decision shows that he refuses to complete the establishment of the constitutional bodies, transforming thus the state of emptiness in a fait accompli that he will try to use to his advantage in the current political struggle.

“There remains hope in the constitutional proceedings. The president has the right to send the amendments back to second reading and ratify them again before obtaining the approval of the majority of the 131 deputies. Then, the Constitutional Court could be put in place to play its essential role in the Tunisian democratic process.