Tunisia's Ennahda, allied forces oppose Al-Mechichi's appointment as PM

Bassem Aly , Thursday 30 Jul 2020

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

Tunisia PM
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)

Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party, as well as its political allies, has not welcomed the appointment of Hichem Al-Mechichi as the country’s new prime minister.

President Kais Saied announced late on Saturday that Al-Mechichi, Tunisia's interior minister and a former advisor on legal affairs for Saied, will lead the new coalition government.

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

But, ahead of this announcement, Rached Al-Ghannouchi – parliament speaker and Ennahda's leader – argued that the "country needs an economist, not a legalist" in order to serve as a "successful manager." Al-Ghannouchi said that Tunisia should have a head of government who has “actual experience,” not just knowledge about theories.

Seifeddine Makhlouf, secretary-general of the conservative Karama Coalition, which has close connections to Ennahda, strongly criticised Al-Mechichi's appointment as premier.

According to local Tunisian news sources, Makhlouf believes Saied disregarded all the suggestions from Tunisia's political parties on the new government.

He added that Saied has "turned into a real burden on democratic transition in Tunisia," ignoring the country's constitution, MPs and political parties. 

Al-Mechichi, a member of the National Commission of Investigation on Corruption that was established in 2011, has only one month to form a new ruling coalition. If he fails to do so, Saied will have to dissolve the parliament and call for new parliamentary elections.

Tunisia's premiership is being handed to the 46-year-old Al-Mechichi during a critical moment.

The country is economically suffering due to coronavirus. The World Bank said in April that the Tunisian economy is expected to contract by 4 percent and poverty will likely go above 3 percent in 2020 on basis of the $3.2 PPP per day line and around 0.3 percent using the international poverty line. 

Official numbers, moreover, show that tourism revenues decreased by almost 50 percent – compared to those of 2019 – between 1 January and 10 July. Tunisia counts on tourism for 8 to 14 percent of its GDP. Some 500,000 Tunisians out of the country’s 12 million people work in this sector. 

This will certainly come at the top of Al-Mechichi's agenda. 

In the meantime, he will have to deal with the huge divisions between Ennahda and opposition forces. 

Last week, interim Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Al-Fakhfakh decided to remove all the Ennahda ministers from his coalition government, meaning that the North African country’s most represented party in parliament will now not be in the cabinet unless a new one is formed.

Al-Fakhfakh resigned after Ennahda had reportedly managed to secure the required 109 votes to remove him from his post. This escalation by Ennahda took place after Al-Fakhfakh said he would do a cabinet reshuffle. 

Ennahda wanted consultations over selecting a new head of government and including new political forces in the coalition government, such as the Qalb Tounes Party, which Al-Fakhfakh refused.

But, amid these developments, opposition parties were not standing silent. The parliamentary procedures for withdrawing confidence from Al-Ghannouchi began on Thursday.

Opposition MPs earlier submitted an official request to hold a vote of no-confidence against Al-Ghannouchi after securing the support of 73 MPs, the number of backers required to move forward with the process.

Yet, to remove Al-Ghannouchi from his post, they need to get the votes of 109 MPs in the 217-seat parliament.

Earlier this month, parliamentary sources in Tunisia said that political forces were “fed up with Al-Ghannouchi’s suspicious moves and practices,” including his “attempt to implement the Muslim Brotherhood agenda” in Tunisia, accusing him of seeking to expand his authority by disregarding the president, satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya reported.

The opposition believes that a conflict of interest exists between Al-Ghannouchi’s posts as Ennahda’s leader and the speaker of parliament.

The opposition includes Al-Kotla Al-Democrateya Party (40 MPs), Tahya Tounes, Al-Islah Al-Watani (15), Al-Kotla Al-Wataneya (nine) and the Free Destourian Party (17).

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