Can a New Prime Minister Finally End Tunisia’s Political Tumult?

Can a New Prime Minister Finally End Tunisia’s Political Tumult?
Tunisian President Kais Saied, right, and the new prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, at the Carthage Palace outside Tunis, Tunisia, July 25, 2020 (Photo by Slim Abid for Tunisian Presidency via AP Images).

Following the resignation of Elyes Fakhfakh as prime minister of Tunisia in mid-July, amid corruption allegations and after just five months in office, President Kais Saied designated one of his own advisers, Hichem Mechichi, as the new prime minister. Mechichi has until Aug. 25 to form a government that can win parliamentary approval. Should he fail, Saied has the constitutional right to call for new elections—an arduous task, particularly as Tunisia struggles with a deepening economic crisis and a spike in COVID-19 cases triggered by reopening the country’s borders in late June.

Before he even takes office, Mechichi faces several hurdles, the biggest of which is cobbling together a government that simultaneously appeases enough of Tunisia’s political parties to be approved by parliament, but does not appear too partisan or vest too much power in any one group. This is a particular challenge given that the current parliament is the most fractured in Tunisia’s history, with no party holding even one-quarter of the seats.

There is no guarantee that Mechichi will succeed. His is the third attempt to form a government since the back-to-back elections in the fall of 2019 that brought in a new legislature and president. The first attempt—by Habib Jemli, the choice of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which holds a plurality of 52 seats in the 217-member legislature—failed to muster enough votes in January. During Fakhfakh’s short-lived government, the climate in parliament devolve into chaos, at times taking on a particularly vicious tone amid obstructionist behavior by lawmakers, furthering the divide between the various parliamentary factions. The biggest fight has been between Ennahda and the opposition Free Destourian Party, or PDL, led by Abir Moussi. Staunchly secularist and critical of the democratic transition, the PDL has modeled itself on former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic regime.

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