In Tunisia, President Kaïs Saïed Fires Prime Minister Najla Bouden

Ahmed Hachani, a former executive of the Central Bank, was appointed as the Prime Minister of Tunisia on Tuesday, replacing Najla Bouden, who was dismissed by President Kais Saied.

According to Tunisian media, the numerous shortages in the country, particularly of bread in state-subsidized bakeries, could be the cause of this change in government leadership.

President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Najla Bouden on Tuesday, August 1st, shortly before midnight, without giving any explanations.

She was replaced by Ahmed Hachani, a former senior executive of the Central Bank, whom he asked to “overcome colossal challenges.” No official explanation was given, but several local media outlets highlighted President Saied’s dissatisfaction with a number of shortages in the country, particularly of bread in state-subsidized bakeries.

Kais Saied “terminated the functions” of Prime Minister Najla Bouden, who had been the first woman to lead a government in Tunisia, according to a statement and a video from the Tunisian presidency released shortly before midnight on Tuesday.

The new head of government was a former cadre at the Central Bank and studied at the Faculty of Law at the University of Tunis, where Kais Saied taught constitutional law, as stated by the appointee on Facebook. Ahmed Hachani, who was completely unknown to the general public, immediately took an oath before President Saied, according to the video from the presidency.

At the end of the ceremony, Kais Saied wished him “good luck in this responsibility” undertaken “in a specific conjuncture.” The president emphasized that “there are colossal challenges that we must overcome with a strong and firm will, in order to protect our homeland, our state, and social peace.”

In recent days, several meetings have taken place within the government and between the president and ministers regarding shortages of subsidized bread in several regions. According to the media, Kais Saied, who recently stated that “bread is a red line for Tunisians,” fears a repeat of the bread riots that resulted in 150 deaths in 1984 under Habib Bourguiba.

In Tunisia, since the 1970s, faced with a low-wage economy, the state centralizes the purchase of a large number of basic products (flour, sugar, semolina, coffee, cooking oil) before reinjecting them into the market at affordable prices. The country has been facing sporadic shortages of these products for months, which, according to economists, are due to suppliers demanding payment in advance, which Tunisia struggles to fulfill.

The North African country, where the weight of the civil service is one of the highest in the world with 680,000 civil servants and around a hundred monopolistic state-owned enterprises, is strangled by a debt of about 80% of GDP and is seeking foreign aid.

Najla Bouden was appointed by Kais Saied on October 11, 2021, a little over two months after the president seized full powers on July 25 by dismissing his then-prime minister and freezing the parliament.

Since this coup, Kais Saied has been governing the country through decrees. The Constitution, which he had amended by referendum in the summer of 2022, significantly curtailed the powers of the parliament in favor of an ultra-presidential system.

A new assembly of deputies took office in the spring of 2023 after legislative elections at the end of 2022, boycotted by opposition parties and shunned by voters with a participation rate of around 10%. On several occasions in recent months, the president has ordered the dismissal of various ministers, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, without ever giving reasons.

Since February, about twenty opponents and personalities have been imprisoned as part of a wave of arrests that also targeted Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist-conservative Ennahdha party, who is a thorn in Kais Saied’s side.

They are “accused of plotting against the security of the state,” and Kaïs Saïed referred to them as “terrorists.” NGOs, including Amnesty International, have denounced “a witch hunt motivated by political considerations.”

The political crisis that Tunisia has been experiencing for the past two years is compounded by serious economic difficulties, with sluggish growth (around 2%), a rising poverty rate (4 million Tunisians out of 12 million inhabitants), and very high unemployment (15%).

Source: AFP

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