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Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Tunisia’s new prime minister vows to stop ‘economic bloodshed’

Hichem Mechichi, previously the country’s interior minister, takes power in the wake of a severe political crisis

Reem El-Sabaa , Thursday 3 Sep 2020
Mechichi & Fakhfakh
Newly approved Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, right, gets documents from outgoing Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh during the handover ceremony in Tunis, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (Photo: AP)
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New Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi vowed on Thursday that his government would exert maximum efforts to stop the “economic bloodshed” that the country is currently witnessing, as well as in combatting terrorism.

Speaking during a ceremony that marked the transfer of Tunisia’s premiership from Elyes Fakhfakh to Mechichi, the new prime minister said that “the difficult and complicated political and economic conditions” would not stop his government’s efforts to ensure stability in Tunisia.

Mechichi, who had previously served as interior minister, also stressed that the new government will “fight terrorism and crime firmly,” expressing support for the Tunisian military and security forces. He described the security situation in Tunisia as stable.

A former adviser to President Kais Saied who had also worked as a member of the National Commission of Investigation on Corruption in 2011, Mechichi said that he is ready to work with the parliament, president, political forces and with civil society organisations.

He also emphasised that he is open to guidance to serve the country’s interests.

Fakhfakh, meanwhile, warned that Tunisia is facing “rampant corruption” and is “re-entering a phase of political instability.”

On Wednesday, the Tunisian parliament approved Mechichi’s technocratic government by 134-67 votes. The government includes 25 ministers and three secretaries of state. Eight of the members are women.

The Ennahda party -- which has the highest number of seats in the parliament -- announced it would vote for the new government “despite reservations.”

The Islamist party strongly opposed Saied’s choice of Mechichi last month, believing that Tunisia “needs an economist, not a legalist,” in order to serve as a “successful manager.”

There was a need for a prime minister who has “actual experience” and not just “theoretical knowledge,” argued Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader and the parliament speaker.

This week, Mechichi, who will have to resume Tunisia’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a new loan programme after a previous programme expired in April, said that Tunisia is facing a debt of roughly 80 billion dinars ($30 billion), with 7.5 billion dinars due to be repaid this year.

According to World Bank data published in April, Tunisia’s economy will expectedly contract by four percent in 2020, with poverty expected to surpass 3 percent. Official estimates also suggest that tourism revenues decreased by almost 50 percent when compared to those of last year, as the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll.

In May, Mechichi -- who was then the state’s interior minister -- announced that terrorists on Tunisia’s border with Algeria had been isolated and had lost their capacity to carry out new attacks.

Tunisia has seen a number of terrorist attacks in the past years, including the storming of the Bardo National Museum and shooting at the famous resort of Port al-Kantaoui north of Sousse in 2015 by militants from the Islamic State terrorist organisation.

Mechichi takes office in the wake of a severe political crisis involving Ennahda and Tunisia’s anti-Islamist forces.

In July, caretaker premier Fakhfakh removed all Ennahda ministers from his coalition government after the Islamist party reportedly managed to secure the required 109 votes to remove him from his post.

Ennahda wanted to expand the coalition to include new political forces, mainly the Qalb Tounes party, and demanded political consultations be held on the issue. Fakhfakh responded by announcing a cabinet reshuffle.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, gathered enough parliamentary support to start procedures for withdrawing confidence from Ghannouchi, accusing him of attempting to implement a Muslim Brotherhood agenda and expand his authority by disregarding the president.

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