Poll shows strong support for Tunisian president despite turmoil

The poll showed 87 per cent public support for the President’s suspension of parliament and dismissal of the prime minister, Hichem Mechich

Simon Speakman Cordall
Thursday 29 July 2021 17:04
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<p>Supporters cheer outside parliament in Tunis after the president dismissed the prime minister </p>

Supporters cheer outside parliament in Tunis after the president dismissed the prime minister

A Tunisian poll has shown overwhelming public support for President Kais Saied and his actions in his country, despite international concerns over his intervention in the country’s politics on Sunday.

The poll, conducted by Ermrhod Consulting showed 87 per cent public support for the President’s suspension of parliament, dismissal of the prime minister, Hichem Mechichi and the removal of members’ immunity from criminal prosecution. Of the 900 people polled, only three per cent opposed the action.It’s findings echo feelings on the streets of the capital Tunis, where few speak of a retreat from democracy and instead tell of their frustrations with party politics and corruption.

For now, Tunisia appears ready to trust its president. However, no details have been published of his roadmap out of the political turmoil. Other than urging against speculation and hoarding, Tunisians are still at a loss as to what Saied’s long term plan might be.

Looking to his campaign promises of two years ago and his past as a professor of constitutional law, many are anticipating a rewriting of the constitution. Such a move, they anticipate, would vest clear power and accountability within the presidency and bring to an end the ceaseless power struggles between the Presidential Palace of Carthage and the Prime Minister’s offices of Bardo that have dominated Tunisia’s post revolutionary political life. Such a move, one leading politician told The Independent, would usher in a “Third Republic.”

In the meantime, there are causes for concern. Despite his past as a constitutional scholar, the legality of his enactment of Article 80 of the Constitution, the legal basis for his subsequent action, remains a matter of debate.Likewise, President Saied’s dismissal of senior government ministers and officials, as well as his stated determination to oversee their public prosecution, has raised concern.

Critically, his involvement in the legal system is worrying. According to at least one commentator, if politicians and business people are seen to be prosecuted in a political court, the president will confirm his status as the aspiring strongman of western imagination.

If, however, the prosecutions are undertaken by Tunisia’s still independent judiciary, he stands to underscore his popularity still further.

In the meantime, Tunisia remains relatively calm.

Security forces, while having a marginally more notable presence, are far from a suffocating one. Opposition politicians remain at large and journalists, beyond the reported closure of Al Jazeera’s Tunis office, have experienced little more than the routine police harassment they have known for years.

More importantly, one of the most critical bellwethers of the popular mood, Tunisia’s young civil society groups, highly educated and heavily invested in the country’s politics, as well as very quick to protest, remain silent. For now.

While support from the majority of civil society, including the country’s powerful trade union may be conditional upon their legality under the country’s constitution, in other areas, his popularity borders upon the cultish.

In Intilaka, a working class neighbourhood outside Tunis, an unemployed man of many years spoke of how his application to run a shop had been refused by the local council.If he could just talk to Kais Said, he said, he was sure he would understand and grant him permission to open his shop. Many, but not all, in Intilaka didn’t want to see the parliament return at all, preferring Kais Saied to rule alone.Speaking on one of the main streets, Imen Khedhri a wedding cook said, “The MPs don’t care about the people. They fight, they just steal our money. I don’t like parliament at all,” she told a translator. “Kais Saied is a just man,” she said. “He will remove the politicians and start something new. I just want him to rule.”

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