Tunisian President Saied is cementing power

Tunisian President Kais Saied consolidated his grip on the judiciary on Sunday with a decree allowing him to remove judges or block their promotion, helping to consolidate his power after he seized executive power last summer in a move his enemies call a coup.

Saied outraged his opponents and intimidated democratic foreign allies with his announcement last week that he was dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that guaranteed the independence of the judiciary.

A former constitutional lawyer and husband of a judge, Saied has accused the council of acting for political interests and has set up a temporary replacement to oversee the judges’ work while he prepares for major changes.

The judiciary was seen as the last remaining institutional bloc for Saied’s actions after he shut down parliament last year and said he could rule by decree.

Saied has said his actions were temporary and needed to save Tunisia from a corrupt, self-serving elite that had stagnated its economy and policies for years and brought the state to the brink of collapse.

Some members of the Supreme Judicial Council and other judges demonstrated last week and closed many courts with a two-day strike in protest of Saied’s actions against the judiciary.

But Saied issued a new decree early Sunday, creating a temporary, indefinite council, to oversee the judiciary, saying judges were not entitled to go on strike.

The decree also said that Saied has the right to object to the promotion or nomination of all judges and is responsible for proposing legal reforms, which in practice gives him sole power over the entire judicial system.

Saied has already taken absolute control of both the executive and the legislature, and his critics accuse him of seeking dictatorial powers.

He has said he will uphold the rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy and that he will add a new constitution to a referendum this summer, with new parliamentary elections to follow in December.

But with Tunisia facing a rapidly looming public finance crisis, Western donors who have previously rescued it have expressed deep concern over Saied’s move, saying all political processes must be inclusive.

The main opposition party, Ennahdha, which has played a major role in most governments since the revolution and is the largest party in the closed parliament, has called for a protest later on Sunday in Tunis.

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