Tunisia’s President Rules Out Early Elections After Dissolving Parliament

Tunisia’s president said late on Thursday he would not hold elections within three months after he dissolved parliament this week, the latest step in a march to one-man rule after brushing aside most of the democratic constitution.

Parties from across Tunisia’s political spectrum and the powerful labor union have cited the constitution to demand that the president hold quick elections after announcing Wednesday that he was dissolving parliament.

“I don’t know how they get this interpretation,” Saied said in the video of a meeting with Prime Minister Najla Bouden that was posted at midnight on the presidency’s Facebook page.

Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington was deeply concerned at Saied’s dissolution of parliament and reports that he would prosecute lawmakers who joined a session in defiance of the president on Wednesday.

“A swift return to constitutional government, including an elected parliament, is critical to democratic governance,” Price said in an online video.

The United States has been a major donor to Tunisia since its 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, and Saied’s government is seeking international funding to avert a rapidly looming crisis in public finances.

Tunisia’s political crisis escalated sharply Wednesday when more than half the members of the parliament, which Saied suspended in July in a move his foes call a coup, held an online session to revoke his decrees.

The UGTT labor union, the most powerful political body in the country with more than a million members, had previously urged Saied to dissolve parliament and quickly call new elections.

The Islamist Ennahda, which was the biggest party in parliament and is the only one with a strong national organization, has rejected Saied’s dissolution of the chamber but said he should still hold elections within three months.

The Free Constitutional Party, whose leader, Abir Moussi, is a supporter of the late autocratic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and a bitter foe of Ennahda, applauded Saied’s move but also called for quick elections.

Moussi, whose party is ahead in opinion polls, said that according to the constitution Saied should call elections within three months.

Saied has previously said he will form a committee to rewrite the constitution, put it to a referendum in July and then hold parliamentary elections in December.

Ennahda head Rached Ghannouchi told Reuters on Thursday the party would boycott any referendum he called to restructure the political system unilaterally.

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