Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

Tunisia unveils government of experts in bid to end political deadlock

The cabinet is expected to be approved by parliament in the coming days

Tunisian Prime Minister designate Ilyes Fakhfakh announced his cabinet on Wednesday. AFP
Tunisian Prime Minister designate Ilyes Fakhfakh announced his cabinet on Wednesday. AFP

Tunisia’s Prime Minister designate, Elyes Fakhfakh announced his proposed government on Wednesday, bringing to an end the political deadlock that has gripped the country since parliamentary elections were held in October 2019.

On Monday President Kais Saied told lawmakers that he was prepared to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections if Mr Fakhfakh’s proposed government did not receive the parliament’s vote of confidence.

Tunisia has been without a functioning government for four months. Ennahda had initially been given the opportunity to form a government in October. But their proposals were unable to secure the confidence of a weak and divided parliament, which led to Elyes Fakhfakh, leader of the relatively obscure Ettakatol party, being entrusted with forming a government by President Kais Saied on January 20.

Mr Fakhfakh’s proposals will now go to Tunisia’s legislature, where they are expected receive the parliament's vote of confidence scheduled for February 26.

As had been expected, Mr Fakhfakh’s government of thirty ministers and two secretaries of state is pulled together from a broad coalition of independents and the country’s main political parties. Tahya Tounes, Achaab, Attayar and the El Badil party are all represented in the government, with the moderate Islamists, Ennahda, who won a plurality in the October election, playing a prominent role.

Independents have been proposed for key roles within the new government.

Financier Nizar Yaiche is expected to take on the key role of finance minister while career diplomat Nourddine Erray has been put forward as foreign minister. Another independent, Imed Hazgui, is set to assume control of the Defence Ministry. Political journeyman, Mongi Marzouk, who has been active in government since the country’s 2011 revolution, takes on the energy ministry.

Elsewhere, Ennahda are set to gain six ministries, including the health ministry, while the social democratic, Democratic Current will receive three, with its founder Mohhamed Abbou taking on the specific post for countering corruption. The party of the former Prime Minister, Youssef Chahed, will get two ministerial postings with the remaining positions divided between the country’s remaining political groups.

The party of controversial media tycoon Nabil Karoui, Qalb Tounes, (Heart of Tunisia), which won the second largest share of the votes in October’s poll, was not included in the new government.

Speaking to local media after the announcement of Mr Fakhfakf’s proposals, a spokesperson for the group claimed that they had been excluded from consultations over the government’s formation and were prepared to serve in opposition.

Joining Qalb Tounes in opposition are the Free Destourian Party, led by political firebrand and apologist for the pre-revolutionary regime of autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Abir Moussi, who refused to join any government that included Ennahda.

The task before the new government is significant. Tunisia needs to borrow an estimated $3 billion (Dh11 bn) internationally to see it through its 2020 spending commitments. The International Monetary Fund, (IMF) has been awaiting the new government’s formation before beginning talks on a sixth review of the loan programme it began in 2016. However, observers at the televised review of the parliament's progress, broadcast on Wednesday evening, questioned whether the economic reforms which have been a precondition of further borrowing have been met by Tunisia.

Beyond the IMF loan, Tunisia has relied upon a series of international loans to maintain its economy since its 2011 revolution, many of which are understood to fall due this year. In 2016, the country staged the Tunisia 2020 Conference intended to drum up financial support for the following four years. In total, around $14bn worth of agreements were signed off on.

Little of the economic optimism of the 2016 conference remains, with few of the grand projects discussed ever reaching beyond the planning stages. Unemployment remains entrenched at 15 per cent, while the currency, the Dinar, continues to flail at a fraction of its past value against the dollar. Recent years have also seen a sharp uptick in the number of Tunisian youth migrating illegally to Europe, as their confidence in the country’s future falters.

Updated: February 20, 2020 05:46 PM

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