Tunisia’s Saied approves new government amid crises

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Tunisian President Kais Saied issued a decree appointing a new government on Monday, 11 weeks after he fired the latest in a controversial power attack amid acute economic and political crises.

State television broadcast an execution ceremony of the cabinet led by Najla Bouden, the North African country’s first female prime minister ever.

In the first public speech since she was nominated, Bouden said on Monday that “the fight against corruption will be the most important goal” for the new government.

A screen grab shows Tunisia’s national television broadcast of Prime Minister Najla Bouden announcing the formation of a new government at Carthage Palace, Tunis, Tunisia, October 11, 2021. (AFP Photo)

She also promised to “raise the standard of living” for the Tunisians and “restore their faith in the state”.

But Saied has significantly reduced the powers in its office and will technically lead the administration itself.

On July 25, the president fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, interrupted parliament and granted himself legal powers in moves that opponents have called a coup.

Saied, a former law graduate, has repeatedly criticized the constitution adopted by Tunisia in 2014, which introduced a mixed parliamentary-presidential system, three years after a revolution that overthrew veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The president appointed Bouden, a geologist, as prime minister on September 29, more than two months after he fired Mechichi’s administration and stripped legislators of their immunity.

In a speech after Monday’s ceremony, Saied reiterated that his move was constitutional in the face of “imminent danger” to Tunisia.

He said he had acted to “save the Tunisian state from the clutches of those who cheat at home and abroad and from those who see their offices as loot or as a means of looting public funds.”

He also promised to “purify the judiciary”.

‘Pursuing democracy’

Saied, selected on an anti-system ticket at the end of 2019, took a host of powers in the midst of a socio-economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although his actions in July enjoyed significant support from a public that was tired of political parties considered self-serving and incompetent, civil society groups have warned of a departure from democracy.

The new cabinet was announced a day after at least 6,000 people demonstrated in central Tunis against Saied’s coup.

A screen grab shows Tunisia’s national television broadcast of President Kais Saied announcing the formation of a new government at Carthage Palace, Tunis, Tunisia, October 11, 2021. (AFP Photo)

Many have seen Saied’s move as a blow to the Ennahdha party, the largest in the country’s parliament, which has dominated Tunisia’s post – revolutionary policies. Some protesters in Tunis on Sunday also expressed support for Moncef Marzouki, who served as president between 2011 and 2014 and now lives in Paris.

Feminist groups have hailed Bouden’s nomination as a step forward for women in Tunisia, seen as a pioneer of women’s rights in the Arab world.

But many have questioned how much power she will give that Saied – who has long opposed gender equality in inheritance laws – will have the last word in government decisions.

The 63-year-old premier has little political experience and is not known for having financial expertise.

Tunisia is facing a protracted economic crisis, exacerbated by the corona pandemic, with over 90% of gross domestic product (GDP) debt, volatile inflation and over 18% unemployment.

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