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Will the new Tunisia government reshuffle go ahead?

February 2, 2021 at 3:00 pm

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Michichi (L) and Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi (R) in Tunisia on 26 January 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

On 16 January Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Michichi announced his plan to reshuffle his government despite strong rejection from President Kais Saied. He then proposed 11 new ministers and obtained a vote of confidence in them in parliament.

The Speaker of the Parliament Rachid Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda Movement, sent letters to Saied asking him to invite the new ministers to be sworn in, but the latter has so far refused, charging that one of the ministers was involved in a corruption case and three others were suspected of conflicts of interest. However, he gave no evidence.

Saied’s rejection led the country into an open-ended political crisis that aggravated the already deteriorated social and economic crises affecting Tunisia as a result of protracted poverty levels and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mechichi told his 11 new ministers that he aimed to create a “more effective” team in order to help deal with the crises the country is facing, but his aim was hit by the political conflict between the president and the parliament.

President Kais Saied has claimed that he was not consulted regarding the government reshuffle; therefore he opposed it. He claimed that the date of the approval of the government reshuffle mentioned in the first letter sent by Ghannouchi was wrong, but parliament denied this claim.

READ: Ten years after the revolution, Tunisia’s president is polarising the country 

He also attempted to lead the country to chaos when he claimed that he was subject to an assassination attempt after a suspect powder was sent to his office. This would mobilise Tunisians to take to the streets in solidarity and support for him. However, many senior officials, including some who worked in the presidential palace alongside the previous president refuted the claim, stressing that such thing could never happen. After investigating the incident experts reported by Al Jazeera found that there was no poisonous material.

Several Tunisian officials and monitors said President Saied aimed to cause public chaos and turn the people’s attention away from his rejection of the MPs.

Tunisian demonstrators gather at Avenue Mohammed V and march to Avenue Habib Bourguiba during a rally to protest against "police repression" and demand the release of demonstrators detained in recent days in capital Tunis on 30 January 2021. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian demonstrators gather at Avenue Mohammed V and march to Avenue Habib Bourguiba during a rally to protest against “police repression” and demand the release of demonstrators detained in recent days in capital Tunis on 30 January 2021. [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

Replying to Saied’s claims that the reshuffle of the government and approval of the parliament violated the Constitution, Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouzi: “It is the time for President Kais Saied to stop inciting against the Constitution and start acting as a president who protects it and as a president for all, not as a leader for a team against another team.”

Speaking to the media, he added: “He [Saied] has to leave the new government, which was approved by the parliament, to start helping the Tunisians and solve their problems.” Marzouzi called on parliament to accelerate working on laying down the bases of a new system that helps the country to avoid reaching such situations in the future.

Commenting on the events, Parliament Speaker Ghannouchi told Al Jazeera: “The role of president in the parliamentarian political system is symbolic, not practical. The issue of government and ministerial council refers to the ruling party.” In such a political system, presidential powers are restricted to defence, national security and foreign policy issues.

READ: Tunisia’s road to democracy 

Mechichi, meanwhile, reiterated that the reshuffle of his government was completely constitutional and it stems from article 89 of the Constitution which stipulates that the president gives the go ahead for the government to take office, but does not have this right to intervene during a reshuffle. “It is clearly Constitutional and the government is likely to start its work soon,” he told journalists yesterday. “The ministers will start serving the Tunisians who are suffering from a difficult economic and health situation.”

Heart of Tunisia MP, Ayyad Al-Lomi, hinted that parliament has the power to sack the president if he does not change his mind regarding the approval of the government reshuffle, pointing to article 88 of the Constitution. But he said that this needs the approval of two thirds of MPs. As Mechici’s reshuffle received 144 votes of the 217 available, such a move could be agreed upon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.