Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Essid cabinet under fire

Tunisia’s political parties have forced a reshuffle of the country’s proposed new government, reports Kamel Abdallah from Tunis

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The proposed new cabinet of Tunisia’s prime minister-designate, Habib Essid, has triggered strong reservations in the parliament formed by the country’s recent legislative elections.

The Nidaa Tounes Party came out ahead in the polls, giving it the right to select a prime minister to form a new government. The Islamist Ennahda Party, which placed second in the elections, is the main force that has voiced opposition to Essid’s cabinet choices.

The prospect of an outright parliamentary refusal of the Essid cabinet has forced Nidaa Tounes to delay submitting new proposals for parliamentary approval until the end of this week, according to a statement released by the party on Monday.

Three parties made it clear that they would reject Essid’s proposed government team if he brought it to parliament for a vote of confidence. In addition to the Islamist Ennahda Party, which has 69 seats in parliament, the leftist Popular Front Party (15 seats) and the liberal Afek Tounes Party (eight seats) were also opposed.

Essid’s proposed government, which included 24 ministers plus 14 ministers without portfolio and nine women cabinet members, was supported by Nidaa Tounes, which has 86 out of the total of 217 seats in parliament, with the backing of the liberal Free Patriotic Union (UPL) with 16 seats, the National Movement Party and a number of independents, some with leftist backgrounds.

Essid said that he submitted his proposed government to the recently elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, on Friday, adding that its members were chosen after intensive negotiations over the government’s composition and programme.

Objections to Essid’s proposals also extended into the party assigned the task of forming the government, however. Osama Al-Khulaifi, head of Tunisians abroad in the Nidaa Tounes Party, said that the proposed Essid government could not qualify as a national unity one, criticising it for being “dominated by the left.”

In remarks to the press on Saturday, Al-Khulaifi said that the prime minister-designate had come under heavy pressure from “parties of a particular ideology whose sole concern is to sideline constitutional figures and independents and to have an exclusive say over the government.”

He also criticised the UPL, led by Slim Riahi, a prominent businessman and president of the Club Africain sporting club. The party had “monopolised the economic and athletic portfolios in the proposed government,” Al-Khulaifi claimed. “Certain individuals do not have even the remotest connection to their ministerial portfolios.”

He said he hoped to see “a constructive government formed on the basis of the demands of reality, not a weak ideological government that will send us back to the kind of time-wasting in which ideological adversities prevailed.”

Al-Khulaifi said that the Essid team will never get the approval of parliament, but added that perhaps the prime minister-designate had intended this. “He wanted to withdraw in a constitutional manner, so he pretended to put himself under pressure and then chose a team that would be sure not to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.”

Nidaa Tounes MP Abdel-Aziz Al-Qotti agreed with Al-Khulaifi’s assessment of Essid’s proposals and said that many members of the party were opposed to them. “It would be a colourless government and incapable of undertaking the structural reforms needed in the country. It would also be very weak,” he said.

The Ennahda Party said that Essid’s proposed cabinet fell short of expectations and could not serve as a national unity government. Fathy Al-Ayadi, head of Ennahda’s executive shura council and the official responsible for its general policy orientation, said that the composition of the proposed cabinet did not reflect the minimum values of a national unity government.

Addressing a press conference on Sunday, Al-Ayadi said, “Tunisia needs essential reforms in order to achieve the aims of the revolution with respect to social development, overcoming some of the problems related to terrorism, the economy and other issues crucial to the country in the coming period.”

The proposed government was not commensurate with these tasks, he implied, and added that Essid’s proposals made no mention of transitional justice and did not take the economy seriously enough. He also criticised the way that consultations had been conducted before the cabinet proposal was submitted to the president.

Secretary-general of the Tunisian Democratic Current, Mohamed Abbou, accused Nidaa Tounes of evading its responsibilities after having won both the legislative and presidential elections in the autumn. Said Abbou, “There are problems relating to some of the [proposed] ministers because of suspicions surrounding them.”

Speaking to the Tunisian Shams radio station on Saturday, Abbou said that the interior minister in Essid’s cabinet had “abused the judiciary” under the rule of ousted former president Zein Al-Abidine Ben Ali. To appoint him as head of the Interior Ministry today would constitute “an insult to the Tunisian revolution,” Abbou said.

He was also certain that the cabinet as it stood would not win parliament’s confidence “unless an agreement is struck with the Islamist Ennahda movement.” He added that if such an agreement did occur, public opinion would need to be informed of it.

Nidaa Tounes will need Ennahda’s support in order to win parliamentary approval of a new government, or at least the support of an array of other parties.

Given the current composition of the Tunisian parliament, it would seem sensible to try to put together a cabinet that can win the broadest possible consensus, averting the kind of strong opposition that could ultimately hamper the work of the government and perhaps lead to its collapse.

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