Tunisia’s president terminated 57 judges on Wednesday, accusing them of corruption and supporting “terrorists”, as he moves to restructure the country’s democratic system after solidifying one-man rule.
In a televised address President Kais Saied claimed he had “given opportunity after opportunity and warning after warning to the court to purify itself”. Hours afterwards, the official gazette published a decree notifying the dismissals.
Among those ousted was Youssef Bouzaker, the former head of the Supreme Judicial Council, which Saied abolished in February.
The council has acted as the principal guarantor of judicial independence since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution and the action fanned claims that Saied was interfering in the judicial process.
Another famous fatality of the purge was Bachir Akremi. Some political activists think the judge is too close to the Ennahda party and accuse him of halting lawsuits against it. Ennahda and Akremi both dispute the charges.
Last July, Saied dismissed the government and seized executive power, then setting aside the 2014 constitution and dismissing the country’s elected parliament
He has been ruling by decree ever since, claiming he needed to take measures to save Tunisia from calamity. Initially, his efforts appeared to earn public support following years of economic stagnation, political paralysis and corruption, but public resentment is building with high inflation and unemployment, and diminishing public services.
Saied, who has also taken control of the once independent electoral commission, has announced he will present a new constitution this month that put it to a referendum in July.
However, practically all of Tunisia’s political parties have condemned the proposal along with the powerful UGTT workers union.
The UGTT warned this week that public sector employees would go on strike on June 16, posing the largest direct challenge to Saied’s power grab thus far.