No 'power vacuum' in Tunisia despite president's illness: advisor

Tunis (AFP) –


Tunisia is not at risk of a power vacuum despite the sudden hospitalisation of President Beji Caid Essebsi, one of his advisors said Friday, describing veteran leader's condition as stable.

Essebsi, 92, was taken to hospital for a "serious illness" on Thursday, the same day that twin suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State group killed a police officer in Tunis and wounded several other people.

"We have a president. There is no constitutional vacancy," one of his key advisors, Noureddine Ben Ticha, told the Express FM radio station.

He said the president's condition was "unchanged".

The Tunisian constitution, adopted three years after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, provides two measures in the case of a power vacuum.

The prime minister can take over the president's responsibilities for a period of no more than 60 days, or if the vacancy is longer the speaker of parliament is tasked with the role for up to 90 days.

In both cases the decision must be taken by the constitutional court after it validates the president's incapacity.

But eight years after the Arab Spring, Tunisia has yet to set up a constitutional court.

On Thursday parliament speaker Mohammed Ennaceur, 85, held a meeting with the heads of parties following the twin suicide bombings and Essebsi's illness.

After his hospitalisation, another key advisor Firas Guefrech had described the president as in "critical condition", and in a later tweet said Essebsi was "stable".

The president's son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, said late Thursday that there were "the beginnings of an improvement" in his father's condition.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said on Facebook he had paid a visit to the ailing leader.

"I would like to reassure Tunisians that the president is receiving the necessary care," he said, warning people not to spread "false and confusing information" after several media reported Essebsi's death.

The country's first democratically elected president, Essebsi came to power in 2014, three years after the Arab Spring that sparked revolts and regime changes in several countries in the region.