New government nears in Tunisia

Al-Ahram Weekly , Tuesday 25 Feb 2020

To avoid the threat of snap elections, Tunisia’s fragmented parliament is set on approving prime minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh’s new government

New government nears in Tunisia
Fakhfakh presents his cabinet list to President Saied (photo: AFP)

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press on Tuesday evening, Tunisia’s designate Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh had secured the support of four parliamentary blocs to form a new government.

The Tunisian parliament’s vote of confidence session on Wednesday was expected to confirm him as prime minister after weeks of intense negotiations that had almost fallen apart. 

Fakhfakh has the support of 125 MPs, or 57 per cent of the assembly. Having secured the support of four parliamentary blocs, the moderate Islamic Ennahda Party with 54 seats, the Democratic bloc with 41, Tahya Tounes with 14 and National Reform with 15, comfortably exceeding the minimum required of 110 votes, the designated prime minister seemed sure to win the vote of confidence on Wednesday.

Tunisia’s November legislative elections resulted in a fragmented parliament, which predictably failed to agree a previous government proposed by earlier prime minister-designate and Ennahda candidate Habib Jemli in January.

Jemli’s list of 43 ministers was rejected by 140 votes out of 219.

Tunisian President Kais Saied then appointed Fakhfakh, 48, a former minister of finance who signed the first agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) overseeing the implementation of unpopular economic reforms in Tunisia, as the new prime minister.

Fakhfakh’s deal has been seen as an effort to end the country’s political crisis, which has lasted four months. Last week, Saied said he would dissolve the parliament and call for early elections if the new government failed to win a vote of confidence.

Saied’s warning followed statements by parliament’s biggest blocs – Ennahda and the Qalb Tunis Party – that they would reject Fakhfakh’s programme.

In response, the president summoned Ennahda leader and Parliamentary Speaker Rachid Al-Ghannouchi to the presidential palace where he explained, as TV cameras broadcast the meeting, his intention to dissolve parliament and call for early elections in the event that the legislative assembly refused to vote in favour of the new government.

Early elections could mean that already small blocs could shrink in size, losing to other parties and prolonging the country’s political crisis. This would be particularly risky for Ennahda, which according to a survey published by polling company Sigma Conseil on 25 January, would gain 15.9 per cent of the vote in snap elections compared to 16.6 per cent for Tunisian politician Abir Moussi’s Free Destourian Party.

Fakhfakh hopes to avoid such early elections as a result of the proposed government being approved by parliament. He had promised to name a government that would draw only from parties aligned with the goals of the country’s 2011 Revolution and would be committed to ending corruption.

He proposed the line-up of the new government on Saturday and then said negotiations would continue after Ennahda had sought some changes.

Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Noureddine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister. Among the other proposed ministers are Mongi Marzouk as energy minister, Mohamed Ali Toumi as tourism minister and Thouraya Jribi as justice minister.

The cabinet includes the Ennahda, Tahya Tounes, Achaab, Attayar and El-Badil parties and independents, leaving out the second-biggest bloc of Qalb Tunis whose controversial leader and former presidential frontrunner Nabil Karoui faces charges of tax evasion and money laundering.

Since the 2011 Revolution in Tunisia, the country has been struggling with high unemployment and low growth. Government debt has increased, with foreign lenders demanding that budget deficits are brought under control. Tunisia needs to borrow about $3 billion internationally in 2020 to meet its spending commitments.

The Tunisian authorities have said the IMF was waiting for the new government to form in order to start talks over a sixth review of the loan programme it began in 2016.

However, the fragmented parliament suffers from significant ideological differences, suggesting future divisions that could jeopardise the stability of the new government.

Sharan Grewal, a North Africa expert with the Brookings Institution’s Centre for Middle East Policy in Washington, predicted internal divisions in the future Fakhfakh government, with disagreements already underway about whether to allow the privatisation of state-owned enterprises between Tahya Tounis in favour and Echaab against.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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