Tunisia president designates new PM amid hopes of ending political crisis

Reuters , Saturday 25 Jul 2020

In this handout picture provided by the Tunisian Presidency Press Service, Tunisian president Kais Saied (R) appoints Interior mMinister Hichem Mechichi as the country's new prime minister, tasked with forming a new unity cabinet, at the Carthage Palace on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on July 25, 2020 (Photo: AFP)

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Saturday designated the interior minister as the new prime minister to succeed Elyes Al-Fakhfakh, who resigned over allegations of a conflict of interest, the presidency said.

New premier Hichem Mechichi pledged to respond to the social and economic demands that have spawned constant protests in the North African country.

"I will work to form a government that meets the aspirations of all Tunisians and to respond to their legitimate demands," Mechichi said.

Mechichi, 46, an independent, now has a month to form a government capable of winning a confidence vote in parliament by a simple majority, or the president will dissolve parliament and call for another election.

The resignation of Al-Fakhfakh this month rippled through parliament, where parties are seeking a no confidence motion against Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. A session is scheduled for Thursday.

With Saied choosing Mechichi, the result of any vote in parliament for the government is not guaranteed.

Mechichi is seen as close to Saied and served as the president's adviser.

But political analysts say Mechichi has no economic background at a time when international lenders are asking Tunisia to make painful reforms.

Western countries have hailed Tunisia for its comparatively successful transition to democracy since the 2011 revolution that ended decades of autocratic rule despite periodic crises.

Many Tunisians are frustrated with economic stagnation, a decline in living standards and decay in public services while political parties often seem more focused on staying in office instead of tackling problems.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made things worse. Tunisia now expects the economy to shrink by 6.5% this year and forecasts a deficit equivalent to 7% of gross domestic product.

It has asked four countries to delay debt repayments. 

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