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The Tunisian Parliament voted, on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, to trust the new technocratic government, formed last week by Prime Minister designate Hichem Mechichi. The country thus hopes to end months of political instability.
Tunisian deputies approved, on the night of Tuesday 1 to Wednesday 2 September, a government of technocrats, the second cabinet in six months, ruling out the possibility of dissolution without putting an end to political tensions in the young democracy.
The team formed by ex-Minister of the Interior Hichem Mechichi, made up of judges, academics, civil servants and private executives, obtained 134 votes out of 217.
“I am proud of this support,” Hichem Mechichi told AFP after the vote, adding that the government will be able “to move forward on economic problems, as long as it does not find itself caught in any political tension” .
After a standoff between President Kaïs Saied, a fiercely independent academic, and the Islamist-inspired group Ennahda, the main parliamentary bloc, the Tunisian president had tasked Hichem Mechichi at the end of July to put together an apolitical team, in opposition to the main parties.
But it is paradoxically thanks to Ennahda and his allies, including the liberal Qalb Tounès party, that Prime Minister Mechichi comes to power, a turnaround heralding new tensions.
“Mr. Saied wanted a Prime Minister at his command, the presidency intervened a lot in the composition of the government, and Mr. Mechichi ended up turning around and seeking the support of the parties to assert himself as head of government,” explains Hamza Meddeb, expert for the Carnegie Center.
Twenty-five ministers and three secretaries of state
For the President of Parliament and leader of Ennahda Rached Ghannouchi, the Assembly “has shown that it is the heart of power in this country”. This government “can solve economic, health and security problems, I am convinced of its success,” he added.
Ennahda, Qalb Tounes and others have nonetheless expressed significant reservations about the cabinet, which they hope to overhaul quickly.
The royal ministries were entrusted to three legal specialists, without a political career and unknown to the general public.
Defense Minister Ibrahim Bartagi is a law professor working at the university where Kais Saied worked. Mohamed Boussetta, Minister of Justice, is a magistrate. Taoufik Charfeddine, Minister of the Interior, is a former lawyer, pillar of the president’s electoral campaign in Sousse.
In total, the government has 25 ministers and three secretaries of state, including eight women, and for the first time a blind minister: Walid Zidi, a teacher researcher appointed Minister of Culture.
Revive oil and phosphate production
Before the vote, Hichem Mechichi, a 46-year-old enarque, presented his priorities: to stop the “hemorrhage” of public finances by relaunching in particular the production of oil and phosphate – hampered by demonstrations of the unemployed -, but also to reform the Tunisian administration and protect the poorest.
This vote rules out the prospect of a dissolution of the Assembly less than a year after its election, which would have risked exasperating public opinion concerned about the country’s economic situation.
Ennahda “has found someone with whom she hopes to be able to compromise,” said Hamza Meddeb. But “there is a cacophony at the top of the state, we are entering a crisis, and Kais Saied risks making life hard for this government.”
The government will be responsible for resuming discussions with the International Monetary Fund, whose four-year program expired in the spring, while Tunisia is struggling to make ends meet.
Hichem Mechichi warned against a “difficult” situation and “dangerous indicators”, with a debt of 80 billion dinars, and a sum of 7.5 billion dinars (about 2.5 billion euros) to repay in 2020.
It will also have to face unemployment, propelled to 18% by the health crisis which put tourism to a halt, the rebound of the pandemic, and the deficits of the important public sector, a challenge in the absence of strong parliamentary support.