Tunisia unveils new government but with no sign of end to crisis

This photo taken from Tunisia's national television screen shows President Kais Saied announcing the formation of a new government at the Carthage Palace, on the outskirts of the capital Tunis, Tunisia, on Oct 11, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

TUNIS – Tunisia's president unveiled a new government on Monday, but gave no hint when he would relinquish his near total control after seizing most powers in July, or start reforms needed for a financial rescue package to avert economic disaster.

Under rules President Kais Saied announced last month when he swept aside much of the constitution, the new cabinet will ultimately answer to him rather than Prime Minister Najla Bouden.

Several of the main cabinet members, including the foreign and finance ministers, were already serving President Kais Saied in an interim capacity, while the new interior minister is one of his staunchest allies

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

"I am confident we will move from frustration to hope," said Saied at the ceremony to swear in the government, while railing against "any who threaten the state".

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Saied has thrust the democratic gains of Tunisia's 2011 revolution into doubt with his seizure of executive authority and suspension of the elected parliament, and has given no clear program to restore normal constitutional order.

He has awarded himself the power to appoint a committee to amend the 2014 constitution and put it to a popular referendum, but has given no further details beyond saying he will soon announce a dialogue with Tunisians.

Though his intervention on July 25 was broadly popular after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, opposition has stiffened over the 11 weeks it has taken him to install a new government.

The delay has aggravated Tunisia's already urgent need for financial support by pausing talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, and the Central Bank governor has warned of dire economic consequences.

Meanwhile, there are growing fears of street confrontations between his opponents and his supporters.

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

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This photo taken from Tunisia's national television screen shows Prime Minister Najla Bouden announcing the formation of a new government at the Carthage Palace, on the outskirts of the capital Tunis, Tunisia, on Oct 11, 2021. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Key Tunisian players including the powerful UGTT labor union, as well as foreign donors, had urged Saied to appoint a government and set a timeline for an inclusive path, including any proposed changes to the political system.

They fear that heavily indebted Tunisia will struggle to finance its 2021 and 2022 budgets, as well as debt repayments, without striking a loan deal with the IMF that could unlock further bilateral assistance.

Any IMF deal would likely require a political roadmap that included broad political and social dialogue, and a plan for reforms to tackle subsidies, the high public sector wage bill and loss-making state companies.

Bouden, whom Saied appointed prime minister last month, said the government's main priority would be tackling corruption and "restoring hope". She did not mention an economic reform program.

Saied said he would soon announce dates for "a real dialogue" in what he said was a contrast to previous ones in Tunisia, that would include youth from all regions of the country.