President Kais Saied named a geologist with little government experience as Tunisia’s first female prime minister today amid a crisis following his seizure of sweeping powers and with public finances close to breaking point, Reuters reports.
He has asked Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known professor of geophysics who implemented World Bank projects at the Ministry of Education, to form a government as quickly as possible.
Elected in 2019, Saied has been under mounting domestic and international pressure to name a government after he dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority in July in moves his foes call a coup.
Last week, he suspended most of the constitution, saying he could rule by decree during an “exceptional” period with no set ending, calling into question democratic gains after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring protests.
Speaking in an online video, Saied said Bouden’s appointment honoured Tunisian women and asked her to propose a cabinet in the coming hours or days “because we have lost a lot of time”.
The new government should confront corruption and respond to the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all fields, including health, transport and education, he added.
Saied has also appointed a woman, Nadia Akacha, as chief of staff, his closest and most powerful aide.
Bouden is likely to have less direct power than previous prime ministers under the 2014 constitution, however, after Saied said last week that during the emergency period the government would be responsible to the president.
Much of the political elite, including most parties in the suspended parliament and the powerful UGTT labour union, have said they oppose Saied’s power grab and major Western donors have urged him to restore normal constitutional order.
Tunisia faces a rapidly looming crisis in public finances after years of economic stagnation were aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and political infighting.
Saied has replaced numerous officials throughout the administration but pledged to uphold rights and freedoms. He has said he will appoint a committee to amend the 2014 constitution.