Tunisia is preparing for a government of technocrats

The future Tunisian cabinet, unveiled Monday night by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, has eight women out of 28 ministers and state secretaries. Among them are senior officials, academics and private managers.

In Tunisia, on Monday 24 November, the Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, presented his future government, the second in six months, composed mainly of technocrats, which still needs Parliament’s approval.

Many parliamentary parties said they were dissatisfied with being removed from the cabinet, while raising the need to vote for confidence in this government to avoid dragging the country, which is already struggling economically, towards early legislative elections.

The future cabinet has eight women out of 28 ministers and state secretaries, many of whom are little known to the public. Among them are senior officials, academics or managers in the private sector.

The parties are kept apart

A bank manager, Ali Kooli, takes over the head of a ministry that centralizes economics, finance and investment. Foreign affairs have been entrusted to Othman Jarandi, a career diplomat who previously held the post in 2013. Minister of Defense Ibrahim Bartagi is an academic according to several media.

Hichem Mechichi, a 46-year-old monarch, thus ignores the calls of the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha and its liberal ally Qalb Tounes to form a political team made up of members of various parties.

Hichem Mechichi is the third head of government appointed since the October 2019 legislative election, which had given birth to a parliament divided into a number of antagonistic formations. The main party, Ennahdha, has only a quarter of the seats and is fighting to form a coalition.

Parliament must decide

A prime minister elected by Ennahdha had failed in January to persuade a majority of deputies. The current head of government, Elyes Fahfakh, appointed by President Kais Saied, was forced to resign in July by Ennahdha on suspicion of a conflict of interest.

Hichem Mechichi, the current interior minister, was also elected by Kais Saied, but his cabinet includes only a few outgoing ministers.

The fate of the government must be decided during an exceptional parliamentary session within the next ten days. The government will then have the support of at least 109 deputies out of 217. Otherwise, President Saied, very critical of the partisan parliamentary system, could dissolve the assembly and call early elections by early 2021.

Affected economies

The parties, and Ennahdha in particular, are concerned about the effects of such a crisis on public opinion, which is already exacerbated by the political bickering agitating Parliament, while the country’s economy is worrying. This reluctance is accentuated by polls suggesting a breakthrough by a small anti-Islamist party, the PDL, in elections.

Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes, who together hold 81 seats, have not yet taken a clear position. The leader of Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, strongly criticized the choice to exclude the parties, an undemocratic decision according to him, on Sunday that the latter could decide to support the government to avoid a new election.

Almost ten years after the revolution, the young Tunisian democracy is weakened by the power struggles that paralyzed political life, and the caution in its economy, exacerbated by the pandemic that has caused the disappearance of thousands of jobs.

Difficult compromise

President Saied, an inexperienced power researcher who was widely elected in October 2019 amid distrust of business politicians since the 2011 revolution, has made social issues his priority.

In addition to dealing with the recovery of Covid-19, the government will need to resume discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose four-year program expired in the spring, address unemployment which now reaches 18% and try to reform large public sector, largely deficits .

If it convinces the majority of deputies, it remains to be seen what will be its room for maneuver, given the difficulty of uniting a solid government coalition among parties that do not want to compromise.

With AFP