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What is Article 80 and how did Tunisia’s president use it to back his decisions?

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Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday announced the suspension of the country’s Parliament and immunity of all deputies and sacked Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi following a series of mass protests across Tunisia.

Saied said, in a speech broadcast after calling on military and security officers for an emergency meeting at Carthage Palace, that he planned to take over the executive authority with the help of a new prime minister to replace the deposed Mechichi.

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The President then based his actions on Article 80 of the country’s constitution, stating that it allowed him to take such measures in specific situations, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

Tunisian President Kais Saied during a televised address on Monday. (Supplied)
Tunisian President Kais Saied during a televised address on Monday. (Supplied)

“We took these decisions so that social peace returns to Tunisia and that we save the country,” Saied said.

What is Article 80?

Article 80 of the Tunisian constitution states that “The President of the Republic, in a state of imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence, is entitled to take the measures necessitated by this exceptional situation, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Cabinet.”

However, the article does not explicitly authorize the president to dissolve the country’s Parliament. It stipulated that measures imposed based on the article should be aimed at restoring stability and normalcy within the country, ensuring that it functions normally, safely and properly as quickly as possible.

“The measures shall guarantee, as soon as possible, a return to the normal functioning of state institutions and services,” the article read. “The Assembly of the Representatives of the People shall be deemed to be in a state of continuous session throughout such a period. In this situation, the President of the Republic cannot dissolve the Assembly of the Representatives of the People and a motion of censure against the government cannot be presented.”

It also stipulated that “Thirty days after the entry into force of these measures, and at any time thereafter, the Speaker of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People or thirty of the members thereof shall be entitled to apply to the Constitutional Court with a view to verifying whether or not the circumstances remain exceptional. The Court shall rule upon and publicly issue its decision within a period not exceeding fifteen days.”

“These measures cease to be in force as soon as the circumstances justifying their implementation no longer apply. The President of the Republic shall address a message to the people to this effect.”

Many political figures in Tunisia have opposed Saied’s move and have accused him of staging a coup. The country’s Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused the president of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution” on Sunday following his decision.

“We consider the institutions to be still standing and supporters of Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” Ghannouchi, who heads the Islamist Ennahda party, told Reuters by phone.

Saied has since rejected coup accusations.

“I call on the Tunisian people to remain calm and not to respond to any provocations. I also call upon the Tunisian people not to take to streets as the most danger a nation can face is internal explosion,” Saied said in a video released on Monday.

Read more:

Tunisian president removes prime minister, suspends parliament after protests

Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accuses president of coup

Watch: Here are the 3 presidential decisions as announced by Tunisia’s Kais Saied