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The future Tunisian cabinet, presented Monday evening by the Prime Minister designate, Hichem Mechichi, has eight women out of 28 ministers and secretaries of state. Among them, senior officials, academics and private executives.

In Tunisia, the Prime Minister designate, Hichem Mechichi, presented late Monday, November 24 its future government, the second in six months, composed mainly of technocrats, and which still has to obtain the approval of the Parliament.

Many parliamentary parties said they were unhappy at having been removed from the cabinet, while evoking the need to vote confidence in this government to avoid dragging the country, already struggling economically, towards early legislative elections.

The future cabinet has eight women out of 28 ministers and secretary of state, many of whom are little known to the general public. Among them, senior officials, academics or private sector executives.

Parties kept apart

A bank boss, Ali Kooli, takes the head of a ministry centralizing Economy, Finance and Investment. Foreign Affairs has been entrusted to Othman Jarandi, a career diplomat who previously held this post in 2013. Defense Minister Ibrahim Bartagi is an academic, according to several media.

Hichem Mechichi, a 46-year-old Enarque, thus ignores the calls of the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha and its liberal ally Qalb Tounes, to form a political team comprising members of the different parties.

Hichem Mechichi is the third head of government appointed since the legislative elections of October 2019, which gave birth to a Parliament split into a multitude of antagonistic formations. The main party, Ennahdha, has only a quarter of the seats, and is struggling to form a coalition.

Parliament must decide

A prime minister chosen by Ennahdha had failed in January to convince a majority of deputies. The current head of government, Elyes Fahfakh, appointed by President Kais Saied, was forced to resign in July by Ennahdha on suspicion of a conflict of interest.

Hichem Mechichi, current Minister of the Interior, was also chosen by Kais Saied, but his cabinet only includes a few outgoing ministers.

The fate of the government must be decided during an exceptional session of Parliament within the next ten days. The government will then have to obtain the support of at least 109 deputies out of 217. Otherwise, President Saied, very critical of the partisan parliamentary system, could dissolve the Assembly and call early elections for early 2021.

Concerned finances

The parties, and in particular Ennahdha, are concerned about the impact of such a crisis on public opinion, already exasperated by the political bickering that agitates Parliament, while the country’s finances are worrying. This reluctance is accentuated by polls suggesting a breakthrough by a small anti-Islamist party, the PDL, in the event of an election.

Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes, who together hold 81 seats, have not yet taken a clear position. The leader of Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, while strongly criticizing the choice to exclude the parties, an undemocratic decision according to him, admitted on Sunday that the latter could resolve to support the government to avoid a new election.

Almost ten years after the revolution, the young Tunisian democracy is weakened by the power struggles paralyzing political life, and the precariousness of its economy, aggravated by the pandemic which has destroyed thousands of jobs.

Difficult compromise

President Saied, an inexperienced scholar of power widely elected in October 2019 against a backdrop of mistrust of business politicians since the 2011 revolution, has made social issues his priority.

In addition to managing the Covid-19 rebound, the government will have to resume discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose four-year program expired in the spring, tackle unemployment now reaching 18%, and attempt to reform the large public sector, largely in deficit.

If he convinces the majority of deputies, it remains to be seen what will be his room for maneuver, given the difficulty in assembling a solid government coalition among parties not inclined to compromise.

With AFP

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