The Tunisian parliament approved, in a tumultuous session that continued late into the evening, Tuesday, to give confidence to the new ministers in the government of Hicham El Mechichi with a comfortable majority, following a cabinet reshuffle that opened a political and constitutional battle between the two heads of the executive authority.
A week ago, Al-Meshishi announced a government reshuffle that included 11 ministries, including the Interior and Justice, explaining that the step comes after a comprehensive evaluation process, with the aim of raising the level of efficiency, and further tightening the application of government policy and implementation of its plans.
The plenary session voted on the ministerial modification as follows: Youssef Al-Zouaghi for Justice: 140 Walid Al-Dhahabi for the Interior: 138 Abdel-Latif Al-Misawi …
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The parliamentary session witnessed an exchange of accusations between the parliamentary blocs supporting the prime minister – Ennahda, the Heart of Tunisia, and the Dignity Coalition, on the one hand and the opposition representatives, particularly the Democratic Current and the People’s Movement, who condemned “the entrenchment of security forces and armored vehicles in front of Parliament in conjunction with the session.”
The vicinity of Parliament witnessed an unprecedented and intense presence of security forces and military and security armored vehicles, which prevented dozens of protesters from young people in popular neighborhoods and even journalists and MPs from reaching the perimeter of the council.
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Intensity of conflict
Observers fear that the government reshuffle will further fuel the conflict between the prime minister and the president of the republic, who criticized during his presidency of the National Security Council meeting the ministerial reshuffle, describing it as unconstitutional.
The new amendment made by the Prime Minister removed ministers close to the President of the Republic, such as the Minister of Interior – Director of the election campaign for the President of the Republic – Tawfiq Sharaf al-Din, in addition to the ministers of culture, justice and health.
The President of the Republic expressed reservations about some of the new ministers, under the pretext of their involvement in corruption and conflict of interest issues, warning that there is no room for these to be sworn in before him, which opened a constitutional debate about the legality of this measure and its implications.
The non-governmental organization “I Wake Up”, which specializes in transparency and fighting corruption, has already issued an open call to parliamentarians, urging them to refuse to vote for the Minister of Health, Justice and Energy, under the pretext of “the serious charges hovering around them,” according to the text of the organization’s statement.
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In the absence of the Constitutional Court, constitutional law experts and professors were divided between the supporter of the president’s statements in relation to the legality of ministers swearing in front of him, and between the limits of his powers and the consequences of his refusal to comply with this procedure, which may amount to a “serious error” requiring the procedures for his removal.
In his speech to Al-Jazeera Net, Professor of Constitutional Law, Moataz Al-Karqouri considered that the Mechanic government derives its legitimacy mainly from the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, which gave it confidence, pointing out that its president is not constitutionally obligated to take this step, according to his estimation.
He stressed that the President of the Republic, as the guarantor of respect for the constitution and the continuity of the state’s work, is obligated to respect the procedure related to the new ministers taking the constitutional oath before him to ensure that the state’s sovereign institutions are not disrupted.
The constitutional expert pointed out that the president’s refusal to allow members of the government to take the oath amounts to a mistake, pointing out that the suspicions that affect some ministers are resolved by the judiciary and not by the executive authority.
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On the other hand, constitutional law professor Amin Mahfouz told the state news agency that the new ministers swearing in the constitutional oath before the president of the republic “is not a formality, but a fundamental measure.”
He pointed out that “Saeed can strive hard and say that he is not obligated to name some of the new ministers and accept the oath from them,” which means that it is impossible for them to practice their duties as members of the government.
The professor of constitutional law criticized the absence of the Constitutional Court and the ambiguity of the constitutional texts related to the procedures for forming the government, gaining confidence and taking the constitutional oath, but stressed in return the legitimacy of the President’s interpretation of the constitution.
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The positions of the parties differed regarding the ministerial reshuffle and the position of the president of the republic towards it, as the leader of the Ennahda Movement, Sanaa Al-Morsni, believes that its bloc decided to grant the new ministers a promotion of the national interest.
She pointed out that the issue of swearing in the constitutional oath of new members of the government before the President of the Republic is a formal and protocol procedure.
She added to Al-Jazeera Net, “Qais Saeed is bound by this procedure, which falls within the restricted jurisdiction of the President of the Republic, which may expose him in case of rejection to the crime of a serious breach of the constitution and requires his dismissal.”
On the other hand, Morsni called on the president of the republic and the rest of the presidencies to be rational and responsible, and to open channels of dialogue in order to give priority to the national interest in light of a crisis economic, social and epidemic situation.
It criticized what it described as the continuous incitement issued by the President of the Republic against the parliament and its deputies, and the consequences of “populist rhetoric”, warning against a repetition of the scenario of the US Congress.
Applause for corruption is corruption
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Abort the dialogue initiative
For his part, MP Abdul Razzaq Oweidat said in his speech to Al-Jazeera Net that the democratic bloc did not vote to give confidence to the new ministers, in light of the absence of any objective evaluation of the performance of the dismissed ministers and the suspicions of corruption that hover around the new ministers.
He pointed out that the ministerial modification had aborted the national dialogue initiative that the Labor Union had called for and emptied it of its content by anticipating a ministerial modification that might be measured to satisfy certain blocs, according to him.
The deputy criticized the intense security presence in the vicinity of Parliament in conjunction with the vote on the ministerial reshuffle and confronting the peaceful demonstrators with armored vehicles, considering that they are practices reminiscent of police repression during the era of the late President Ben Ali.
It is noteworthy that some of the new ministers in the government of Hisham El-Mechichi were granted confidence by the deputies of Parliament with an unprecedented majority reaching 144 votes out of a total of 217, what observers considered a remarkable expansion in the parliamentary belt in support of the Presbyterian government.