Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda party, says he and other legislators consider state institutions as operational as per constitution after President Kais Saied ousted PM Hichem Mechichi and suspended legislature for 30 days.

Members of the Tunisian military prevent parliament speaker and Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi's motorcade from entering the parliament, which they cordoned-off in the capital Tunis on July 26, 2021.
Members of the Tunisian military prevent parliament speaker and Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi's motorcade from entering the parliament, which they cordoned-off in the capital Tunis on July 26, 2021. (AFP)

Tunisia's parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi has accused President Kais Saied of "misrepresenting the truth", branding his suspension of parliament and dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government "a coup."

"If this [coup] continues, it is going to go against the pluralistic and democratic principles of our country," Ghannouchi, who is also the head of the largest party in parliament, the religious leaning Ennahda, said in an interview with TRT Arabic on Monday. 

"It is aiming to remove the legitimacy of government institutions and of the state," he said.

In a statement late on Sunday, Saied invoked the constitution to dismiss PM Mechichi and decree a freeze of the parliament for a period of 30 days, saying he would govern alongside a new premier.

It came after protests against the government and Ennahda following a spike in Covid-19 cases, and growing anger over Tunisia's chronic political dysfunction and economic woes.

Saied's announcement brought cheering crowds onto the streets of the capital Tunis.

The president has rejected accusations he has conducted a coup, saying his actions are based on Article 80 of the constitution and are in response to Tunisia's years-long economic and political paralysis.

However, a special court required by the 2014 constitution to adjudicate such disputes between Tunisia's branches of state has never been established, after years of wrangling over which judges to include.

"They are trying to hegemonise the interpretation of the constitution," Ghannouchi argued. 

"The president has no role and no right to interpret the constitution," he said, arguing that even if a temporary constitutional court was established, it wouldn't fall under the president's influence "in any way." 

READ MORE: Tunisian president suspends parliament, dismisses government

Ghannouchi prevented from entering parliament

Ghannouchi also denied claims by the Tunisian president that he had consulted the parliament speaker before taking his decisions.

Ghannouchi said he is "adamant about the legitimacy of the government" and that he considers the parliament in session and the government "still standing".

Earlier on Monday, Ghannouchi led a sit-in protest in front of the legislature after the army blocked him from entering.

He arrived at parliament in the early hours, where he said he would call a session in defiance of Saied. 

However, the army stationed outside the building stopped the 80-year-old former political exile from entering.

"I am against gathering all powers in the hands of one person," he said outside the parliament building, where several hundred supporters of the president had also gathered, chanting slogans against Ennahda and blocking followers of the party from reaching the building, news agencies reported.

"This is a coup against the revolution and the constitution," he said, adding "the Tunisian people will defend the revolution."

READ MORE: Opinion: Where is Tunisian democracy headed?

'Worse situation' ahead

Ghannouchi has played a role in successive coalitions and has come to personify Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution when he returned in triumph from exile to craft a decade of compromises that averted civil strife.

Two of the other main parties in parliament, Heart of Tunisia and Karama, joined Ennahda in accusing Saied of a coup. 

Former president Moncef Marzouki who helped oversee the transition to democracy after 2011 revolution said it could represent the start of a slope "into an even worse situation".

Saied, in his statement announcing the dismissal of PM Mechichi and the freezing of parliament, said he had also suspended the legal immunity of parliament members and that he was taking control of the general prosecutor's office.

He warned against any armed response to his actions. 

"Whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets," said Saied.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies