Saied keeps on reminding Ghannouchi Tunisia has ‘only one President’

The president insisted that “the Tunisian state is one, and it has one president, both at home and abroad.”

Saturday 04/07/2020
A file photo shows Tunisian President Kais Saied (L) receiving Rached Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda party during at the Carthage Palace. (DPA)
A file photo shows Tunisian President Kais Saied (L) receiving Rached Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda party during at the Carthage Palace. (DPA)

TUNIS – Tunisian President Kais Saied does not miss any opportunity to point out that he is the “one and only President”. In more than one occasion, he has made sure to remind Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, in particular, of that and that he is the one who, according to terms of the Constitution, sets the course of the country’s foreign policy.

On Friday, the Tunisian President met with Ghannouchi and Prime Minister Elias Fakhfakh. A statement on the Tunisian Presidency’s Facebook website stated that the President of the Republic stressed that “the head of state is the symbol of its unity, the guarantor of its independence and continuity, and the one responsible for respecting the constitution.”

The statement stressed the importance of “speeding up the process of addressing the economic and social conditions and the need to find solutions to the legitimate demands of the Tunisian people for work, freedom and national dignity.”

The meeting between the heads of the country’s three institutions, the Presidency of the Republic, the executive, and the Parliament, came after the uproar caused by a leak from the meeting of the Shura Council of Ghannouchi’s Ennahda Movement Party, which was held last Saturday and Sunday, and in which Ghannouchi mocked President Kais Saied’s knowledge of what was happening in Libya, in light of the latter’s comments during his visit to Paris about the difference between “permanent legitimacy” and “temporary legitimacy” that were interpreted as Saied questioning the international legitimacy of the Libyan Government of National Accord which is an ally of the Islamists and Turkey.

Ennahda, and especially its boss Rached Ghannouchi, met the uproar caused by the audio leak with great indifference, which was interpreted as admitting and validating the leaked content. As usual, Ghannouchi did not bother to apologize to the Tunisian president, even as a matter of protocol, let alone the etiquette of showing solidarity between state institutions and their heads.

Observers of Tunisian affairs said that President Saied reiterated to Ghannouchi, as if he was making the argument against him before the Prime Minister and the Tunisian people, that, according to the country’s Constitution, the President of the Republic is the only authority responsible for ultimately deciding crucial issues to the country’s security and reputation, especially those related to deciding and expressing Tunisia’s official position regarding international developments. President Saied’s statements were practically an explicit invitation to the Speaker of the Parliament to stop making public statements about foreign affairs and cease his continuous attempts at infringing on the functions of the President of the Republic and of the Prime Minister and posture as if he were the ultimate ruler of the country.

President Saied had in more than one speech alluded to Ghannouchi that he should limit himself to his powers as Speaker of the Parliament, but it seems that Ghannouchi has not picked the message yet. The head of the Islamist Ennahda Movement kept encroaching upon the role of the President of the Republic, and trying to give the impression that, on the issue of the crisis in Libya, Tunisia is part of the Turkish-Qatari alliance, an option completely rejected by President Saied.

In a previous speech, President Saied said that he “does not seek to create crises or to manage them, as some political parties are doing,” and that “he will not allow any party to bypass the law or overreach its powers granted by the constitution.”  The president insisted that “the Tunisian state is one, and it has one president, both at home and abroad.”

During this latest tripartite meeting, President Saied’s words carried a clear message to the Prime Minister, and to Ghannouchi as the head of the political party with the largest share of ministerial portfolios in the current cabinet, that the role of the government is not to engage in fomenting political conflicts but to implement the promises it made in the social and economic program thanks to which it gained the confidence of the representatives of the people.

Observers pointed out that President Saied wanted to dissociate himself from the poor performance of the government so far, especially as Ennahda, through recent statements by its leaders, started absolving itself of any responsibility for the government’s mistakes, by claiming that this government was the “President’s government”, and that he alone bears the responsibility for its poor performance and the mistakes of its head, Elias Fakhfakh.

Ennahdha had done its best to block the document titled “The pact of solidarity and stability”, which was prepared by the government and presented to all the political forces to sign. The aim of the document was to clear the political climate from the tensions deepened by the side conflicts and issues that had been weakening the current government coalition.

President Saied’s urging his interlocutors to accelerate “the process of addressing the economic and social conditions and the need to find solutions to the legitimate demands of the Tunisian people for work, freedom and national dignity,” seems to aim at disengaging himself from the current government, especially in light of the recent demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister against the background of suspicions of “conflict of interests”. It is as if the president wanted to say that he had chosen Fakhfakh as prime minister according to constitutional mechanisms and standards after the political class had failed to agree on one person to head the government, and that he did not choose him to implement the President’s program.