Tunisian leader appoints new prime minister with little experience in times of crisis
TUNIS, Sept. 29 (Reuters) – President Kais Saied on Wednesday appointed a geologist with little experience in government as Tunisia’s first female prime minister in the midst of a crisis following her seizure of sweeping powers and with public finances close to breaking point.
He asked Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known geophysics professor who implemented World Bank projects at the Ministry of Education, to form a government as soon as possible.
Elected in 2019, Saied has come under increasing domestic and international pressure to appoint a government after he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive power in July in moves his enemies call a coup.
Last week he suspended most of the constitution, claiming he could rule by decree for an “exceptional” period with no definite end, questioning democratic gains after the 2011 Tunisian revolution that sparked the protests of the government. Arab Spring.
Speaking in an online video, Saied said Bouden’s appointment honored Tunisian women and asked her to propose a cabinet in the hours or days to come “because we’ve wasted a lot of time.”
The new government must fight corruption and meet the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all areas, including health, transport and education, he added.
Women have rarely occupied high-level political positions in Arab countries. In Tunisia, Saied also appointed a woman, Nadia Akacha, as chief of staff, his closest and most powerful assistant.
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 the government would be accountable to the president.
Much of the political elite, including most parties in the suspended parliament and the powerful UGTT union, have said they oppose Saied’s takeover and major Western donors have urged him to restore normal constitutional order.
Tunisia faces a looming public finance crisis after years of economic stagnation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and internal political struggles.
Government bonds posted their best gains in more than a month following a selloff since Saied intervened, as well as pressure on the cost of default insurance.
“The key is the possibility of IMF support,” said Viktor Szabo, emerging markets portfolio manager at ABRDN in London.
The new government will have to act very quickly to seek financial support for the budget and debt repayment after Saied’s takeover in July suspended talks with the International Monetary Fund.
“It is a positive sign that a woman will lead the government. I hope that she will immediately start saving the country from the specter of bankruptcy. She should quickly address the problems of Tunisians,” Amin Ben Salem said. , banker in Tunis.
There was no immediate reaction from the union or political parties to Bouden’s appointment. However, major parties in parliament can challenge the legality of his appointment and that of any new government or policies it tries to implement without the consent of the suspended chamber.
A senior Tunisian politician told Reuters last week that the new prime minister would face an intimidating inbox as most of the government’s work came to a standstill in the past two months and a wide array of files required urgent attention.
Saied replaced many civil servants across the administration, but was committed to defending rights and freedoms. He said he would appoint a committee to amend the 2014 constitution.
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean and Catherine Evans
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