Tunisia unveils new government but no sign of end of crisis

Prime Minister Najla Bouden Romdhane poses for a photo during his meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied, in Tunis, Tunisia, September 29, 2021. Tunisian Presidency / Document via REUTERS

  • No clue on economic reforms, abandonment of power
  • Critics denounce “coup”, supporters hail coup against elite
  • Protests raised fears of political unrest
  • Saied says he sees it go from “frustration to hope”

TUNIS, Oct. 11 (Reuters) – The Tunisian president unveiled a new government on Monday, but gave no indication of when he would relinquish near-total control after taking most power in July, or begin reforms necessary for a financial bailout to avert an economic disaster.

Under rules announced last month by President Kais Saied when he swept away much of the constitution in what they called a coup, the new cabinet will ultimately respond to him rather than the prime minister. Najla Bouden.

Several of the main cabinet members, including the foreign and finance ministers, were already serving Saied on an interim basis, while the new interior minister is one of his staunchest allies.

“I am convinced that we will move from frustration to hope,” Saied said at the government swearing-in ceremony. The period of exceptional measures would continue “as long as there is imminent danger”, he added.

Saied questioned the democratic gains of the Tunisian revolution of 2011 with its seizure of executive power and the suspension of the elected parliament, and gave no clear program to restore normal constitutional order. Read more

He gave himself the power to appoint a commission to amend the 2014 constitution and submit it to a popular referendum, but gave no details other than to say that he will soon announce a dialogue with Tunisians. Read more

Although his July 25 intervention was widely popular after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, the opposition hardened in the 11 weeks it took them to install a new government.

The delay worsened Tunisia’s already urgent need for financial support by suspending negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout, and the central bank governor warned of the dire economic consequences. Read more

There are also growing fears of street clashes between its opponents, who fear that its intervention may herald a return to an authoritarian regime, and its supporters, who hail it as a reconquest of the revolution from a corrupt and entrenched elite. Read more


Resisting calls to reconvene the suspended parliament, which was elected at the same time as him in 2019, he showed a series of photographs of brawls inside the hemicycle in recent years and called it the parliament of “violence, blood and insults”.

Foreign donors and powerful internal actors such as the UGTT union had put pressure on Saied to appoint a government and set a timetable for an inclusive path, including any proposed changes to the political system.

They fear that heavily indebted Tunisia will find it difficult to finance its 2021 and 2022 budgets, as well as the repayment of its debt, without concluding a loan agreement with the IMF that could unlock additional bilateral aid.

A senior UGTT official, Sami Tahri, said the union welcomed the formation of the government, adding that “public finances must be an urgent priority. As major reforms must be broadly agreed upon. and require time … that cannot be the task of a transitional government. “.

Any deal with the IMF would likely require a political roadmap that includes broad political and social dialogue, and a reform plan to tackle subsidies, high public sector payrolls, and loss-making state-owned enterprises.

Bouden, whom Saied named prime minister last month, said the government’s top priority would be to fight corruption and “restore hope”. She did not mention an economic reform program.

Saied said he would soon announce dates for “real dialogue” in what he said was in contrast to previous ones in Tunisia, which would include young people from all parts of the country.

He also rejected what he called foreign interference in Tunisia, accusing some Tunisian politicians of seeking to poison relations with Western countries, especially former colonial power France.

Western donors have expressed growing unease with his actions. Last week, the US State Department said it urged Saied “to heed the Tunisian people ‘s call for a clear roadmap for a return to a transparent democratic process.”

Reporting by Tarek Amara Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Peter Graff, Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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