Tunisian President appoints new government almost 3 months after taking power


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Tunis (AFP)

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday issued a decree appointing a new government, 11 weeks after sacking the last in a controversial takeover amid acute economic and political crises.

State television broadcast a swearing-in ceremony for the cabinet headed by Najla Bouden, the country’s first-ever female prime minister.

In his first public speech since his appointment, Bouden said on Monday that “the fight against corruption will be the most important goal” of the new government.

She also pledged to “raise the standard of living” of Tunisians and “restore their confidence in the state”.

But Saied has significantly reduced the powers of his office and will technically run the administration himself.

On July 25, the president sacked the former prime minister, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers in actions that opponents have called a coup.

Saied, a former law scholar, has repeatedly criticized Tunisia’s 2014 constitution that established a mixed parliamentary-presidential system, three years after a revolution that toppled veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The president appointed Bouden, a geologist, as prime minister on September 29, more than two months after sacking Hichem Mechichi’s administration and lifting the immunity of lawmakers.

In a speech after Monday’s ceremony, Saied reaffirmed his measures were constitutional in light of the “imminent peril” Tunisia faces.

He said he had acted to “save the Tunisian state from the clutches of those hiding at home and abroad, and those who see their office as loot or a means to loot public funds.”

He also pledged to “clean up justice”.

– “Drift of democracy” –

Saied, elected to an anti-system list at the end of 2019, has seized an array of powers amid a socio-economic crisis made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated against the president’s takeover on Sunday FETHI BELAID AFP

Although his July measures received significant support from a weary audience of political parties seen as selfish and incompetent, civil society groups have warned of moving away from democracy.

The new cabinet was announced a day after at least 6,000 people demonstrated in central Tunis against Saied’s takeover.

Many saw Saied’s measures as a blow to the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party which dominated Tunisia’s post-revolutionary politics, but some protesters in Tunis on Sunday also expressed support for Moncef Marzouki, who served as president. between 2011 and 2014 and now lives in Paris.

Feminist groups hailed Bouden’s appointment as a step forward for women in Tunisia, seen as a pioneer of women’s rights in the Arab world.

But many wondered what power she would have given Saied – who has long opposed gender equality in inheritance laws – will have the final say in government decisions.

The 63-year-old prime minister has little political experience and is not known to have economic expertise.

Tunisia faces a long-lasting economic crisis, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with debt exceeding 90 percent of gross domestic product, soaring inflation and an unemployment rate of over 18 percent.

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