Tunisian parliament votes to allow PM to govern by decree

Bill grants Fakhfakh special powers to fight pandemic.
Sunday 05/04/2020
A file picture shows Tunisia's prime minister Elyess Fakhfakh speaking during a news conference in Tunis, last January. (REUTERS)
Special powers. A file picture shows Tunisia's prime minister Elyess Fakhfakh speaking during a news conference in Tunis, last January. (REUTERS)

TUNIS--In a rare display of consensus, Tunisia's parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of granting the prime minister special powers for two months in order to allow for the adoption of measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh will be able to issue decrees without referring to the legislature in an effort to battle the pandemic in the Maghreb country, according to a bill adopted Saturday by parliament.

The decision was passed by a favourable vote of 178 MPs in the 217-member parliament during a plenary session, part of which was conducted by video-conference.

The move comes as the government has imposed a series of tough measures to curb the coronavirus spread since early March, when the first case emerged in the country.

Tunisia has been under a night-time curfew since March 17 and authorities imposed stricter lockdown orders on March 22 that will remain in place until April 19.

COVID-19 has claimed 19 lives in Tunisia so far among 553 confirmed cases of the disease.

Saturday's decision was based on Article 70 of Tunisia's constitution, which allows parliament to delegate powers to the head of government for a period of time that does not exceed two months.

Lawmakers had initially agreed to limit the special powers to one month before voting to allow the prime minister a free hand for the full two months.  Ennahda-affiliated MPs were initially reluctant to vote in favour of the special powers bill. In a rare display of consensus, they eventually voted in favour of the bill along with most other blocs including rival formations in the parliament such as the anti-Islamist Free Destourian Party.

The text adopted Saturday states that when the two months are up, the decrees issued by the prime minister would be submitted to parliament for ratification.

In February, Fakhfakh, a former finance minister, was sworn in after winning a parliamentary vote of confidence that ended four months of post-election deadlock amid political wrangling.

An initial line-up put forward by the prime minister had been rejected by the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which won the most seats in October's legislative election but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

At his confirmation in February, Fakhfakh said his priorities would be to boost the economy and address social pressures in Tunisia where unemployment and the cost of living is high. The COVID-19 pandemic is seen as particularly impacting the poor and the unemployed.

(With news agencies)