The country's constitutional crises reflect broader socio-economic crises that politicians need to get a grip on.

As Tunisia's democratically elected politicians called on President Kais Saied to reverse his power grab and reinstate the country's democracy, his response has been to deepen the crackdown.

Now Saied has assumed control of the public prosecutions office, which oversees decisions on which criminals cases to pursue and is also reportedly going after judges and prosecutors, resulting in the country sliding into deeper uncertainty.

The president and his supporters see the move as an attempt to restore order. In contrast, his critics argue that it's the making of another Middle Eastern "strongman" who is using the country's freebie political environment to suspend parliament, fire the country's prime minister and lift parliamentary immunity.

Saied's latest actions could presage the arrest and trial of parliamentarians, particularly from the country's largest political party, Ennahda, who have been at odds with the president.

The president's public statement suggests that he's only interested in going after corrupt individuals who have stolen money from the state.

"Saied's supporters think this is perfectly in line with democratic governance, given that he was elected with such a wide margin," says Mariem Masmoudi, an analyst focusing on Tunisia’s democratic development.

And while his detractors have called the President's actions undemocratic, and worse, a coup, "it won't affect anyone's faith in democracy," says Masmoudi speaking to TRT World because "Saied quite simply sidelined the democratic process."

The central crux of the power grab lies Article 80 of the constitution, a powerful and wide-ranging clause which some have accused the president of abusing.

So what is Article 80?

The problem that opponents of Saied have is that Article 80 provides a "very wide discretion," says Zaid Al-Ali, a constitutional expert, which in turn makes the president "solely responsible for assessing whether or not there is an imminent danger" necessary for activating the clause.

The measures the president can take are broad, not specified or only "described in very, very vague terms," says Al-Ali speaking to TRT World, adding that "in fact, there is very little specifically mentioned in the article that he can't do."

Al-Ali's upcoming book on Arab Constitutionalism is the culmination of research looking at the debates that have erupted in the region, particularly after the Arab Spring resulted in a seismic shift in the legal framework of countries like Tunisia.

Events in Tunisia and its post-revolutionary constitution makes Al-Ali's book prescient.

So is Saied's broad interpretation of that article justified? "Yes, it is," says Al-Ali adding quickly, "Not because I like it, but the wording that's used shows it's very, very wide."

The country's other political actors may not like it and perhaps never foresaw a president using such powers in this way, but there is very little room for them to manoeuvre in.

One strong remaining argument that those opposing the president's actions have is that he suspended parliament, which is one thing that Saied is "clearly not allowed to do," says Al-Ali.

Under Article 80, the parliament should be in "continuous session" once Article 80 is triggered, adds Al-Ali.

"Aside from that one issue, the rest is clearly within the president's authority or at best debatable," says Al-Ali.

Saied's actions, however, have not occurred in a vacuum.

A recent poll found that more than 89 percent of citizens in Tunisia say that corruption is prevalent in state institutions and national agencies, and only 34 percent say that the government is cracking down on corruption.

The country has been experiencing a steady build-up of problems with little resolution in sight. The failure to establish a constitutional court has allowed the current constitutional crisis to flourish.

Al-Ali sees a "lack of a universal commitment to a rules-based system" across the country's ruling elite as a significant contributor towards the current predicament.

"It's not sufficient for there just to be a political system for its own sake," says Al-Ali if there is failure to "provide benefits for the general population and to improve their ordinary lives."

There has to be an understanding amongst Tunisian politicians that the "purpose of politics must be to benefit the general population."

As the impact of Covid-19 has hit the country's economy hard and the death toll climbs to almost 19,000, political wrangling in Tunis has felt far removed from the everyday hardships of citizens.

Unemployment, already high, rose to almost 17 percent in 2020. At the same time, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high in the mid 30 percent since 2012 after peaking at 42 percent following the 2011 revolution.

"If the situation of the general population deteriorates consistently with no prospect of improvement, then there has to be a serious reevaluation of the politics in the country," warns Al-Ali. 

Source: TRT World