Tunisia's PM to announce new coalition Thursday

Bassem Aly , Thursday 20 Aug 2020

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Hichem Mechichi. AFP

Tunisia’s new premier Hichem Al-Mechichi will announce his coalition government on Thursday, Al-Arabiya reported Haikal Al-Mekki, an MP with the People’s Movement, as saying.

Limited information is available on the formation of Al-Mechichi’s coalition, but, according to the same report, the bloc will include a number of ministers who served in the cabinet of Elyes Al-Fakhfakh, Al-Mechichi’s predecessor.

These include defence minister Emad Al-Hazki, finance minister Nezar Ya’esh, tourism minister Mohamed Aly Al-Tomi, and justice minister Thoraya Al-Gerebi.

After her recent meeting with Al-Mechichi on 12 August, head of the Free Destourian Party Abeer Moussa said the new prime minister wants an “independent” government that will see the merger of a number of ministries.

It is yet unclear whether Al-Mechichi will succeed in earning the approval of the 217-seat parliament for his government.

But his insistence on an independent, technocratic government is clearly opposed by the Islamist Ennahda Party, the most represented political force in parliament with 54 seats, Qalb Tounes (27 seats), the Democratic Current (22 seats), Al-Karama Bloc (19 seats) and the People’s Movement (15 seats), Al-Arabiya reported.

Others, meanwhile, do not seemingly oppose Al-Mechichi’s vision for an independent government, including the Free Destourian Party (17 seats), the National Reform Bloc (16 seats), the National Bloc (11 seats), Tahya Tounes (16 seats) and the Future Bloc (nine seats).

Since President Kais Saied chose Al-Mechichi to form the new government on 25 July, Ennahda and its political allies have been voicing their opposition.

Even ahead of Saied' announcement, Rached Al-Ghannouchi, parliamentary speaker and Ennahda's leader, had argued that the "country needs an economist, not a legalist" in order to serve as a "successful manager." Al-Ghannouchi said Tunisia should have a premier with “actual experience,” not only knowledge about theories.

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

According to local Tunisian news sources, Makhlouf believes Saied disregarded the suggestions of 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 established in 2011, has only one month to form a new ruling coalition. If he fails to do so, Saied will have to dissolve parliament and call for new parliamentary elections.

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

The country is economically suffering due to the coronavirus. The World Bank said in April that the Tunisian economy is expected to contract by four percent and poverty will likely go above three percent in 2020 on the 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 eight to 14 percent of its GDP. Some 500,000 Tunisians out of the country’s 12 million population 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 massive divisions between Ennahda and opposition forces.

Last week, 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 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 had said he would conduct a cabinet reshuffle.

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

Nonetheless, amid these developments, opposition parties were not standing idly by. Parliamentary procedures for withdrawing confidence from Al-Ghannouchi began in July.

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