Tunisia’s president on Wednesday swore in a new government that will have to confront deep-seated economic woes, but used the ceremony to launch a blistering attack on unnamed enemies that’s sure to fuel the political bickering the nation has struggled with for years.
Overshadowing the anointing of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s administration, President Kais Saied accused unspecified politicians of treason, plots and lies, which he vowed to reveal in due time. What was missing from the address was any mention of Tunisia’s key challenge – reviving the economy.
”I respected the system, the constitution and institutions, although some do not deserve this respect but instead deserve nothing but contempt,” Saied said.
Mechichi had already faced an uphill battle. While he was nominated by Saied, the president had then sought on Tuesday to sabotage his appointment before parliament for unspecified reasons.
Although touted as the sole democratic success story to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, Tunisia has been unable to post more than anemic economic growth. The Covid-19 pandemic shattered even that, with the economy likely to contract 7% this year while a fifth of the workforce is expected to be idle.
Mechichi, addressing lawmakers on Tuesday, warned that the public’s patience was wearing thin with the infighting that has hobbled Tunisia since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster nine years ago. Saied’s address, however, only seemed to offer the promise of more political intrigue.
Saied,Tunisia’s President a constitutional law professor who rose from relative obscurity to the presidency last year on the back of public frustration over mainstream politics, has so far offered Tunisians little more than cryptic addresses that have shown him as removed from the daily plight of the population.
That’s likely to further complicate efforts for Mechichi’s technocratic government.
The new government won’t have “a blank check,” said independent political analyst Mohamed Yousfi. Mechichi, who will need to do deals with parliament’s largest blocs to get policies through, might get burned if he “enters into a confrontation with President Saied.”
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The president’s role has traditionally been ceremonial. But Saied has been accused by some lawmakers of seeking to curb parliament’s powers and, most recently, of pressuring Mechichi on cabinet nominations. Both are outside his constitutional prerogatives.
Mechichi is the second of two premiers chosen by Saied since lawmakers in January rejected an administration proposed by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which has the most seats in parliament. Support from Ennahda and the next-biggest party, Heart of Tunisia, were key to Mechichi forming his administration.
Before it quit in July, the previous government had vowed to reach a new loan deal with the International Monetary Fund within three to four months. That may have been optimistic: past relations have been bedeviled by the lender’s demands for unpopular cost-cutting measures, which would carry the risk of street protest.