Hichem Mechichi, the prime minister-designate of Tunisia, has proposed a cabinet of technocrats to limit political infighting.
Rabat – Tunisian Prime Minister-Designate Hichem Mechichi has proposed a cabinet of technocrats without allegiance to any political parties, in an effort to solve an impasse in the country’s politics.
Mechichi barely met the deadline to present his new cabinet. A press briefing at midnight on Monday ensured his cabinet was submitted just before the deadline on Tuesday.
Mechichi has attempted to circumvent Tunisia’s entrenched political divisions by proposing a cabinet of technocrats with no representation from any political parties. In the midnight press briefing, he stated that he aimed to use a non-political cabinet to accelerate economic development and improve social support for Tunisians.
Mechichi’s proposed cabinet is the second cabinet under consideration in six months. Former Prime Minister Elyas Fakhfakh resigned following a scandal over a conflict of interest with his business ties, leading President Kais Saied to appoint Mechichi as the new prime minister.
The newly-proposed cabinet needs to win a vote of confidence from Tunisia’s divided parliament. Without a positive result, President Saied would be forced to order a dissolution of parliament and new elections, which would present a new blow to Tunisia’s post-2011 democratic process.
The cabinet presented on Monday night would consist of 28 members, 8 of whom are women. The cabinet would streamline three economic ministries into a single body led by Ali Kooli, the current Tunisian CEO of the Bahraini Arab Banking Corporation.
Mechichi’s gamble to sideline Tunisia’s bickering political parties could backfire as parliament has a final say on the proposed cabinet.
The Republican Popular Union (UPR) stated on Monday that it would not support a technocratic government in principle. The UPR argued that such a government would “circumvent the principles of the second Republic and the people’s will,” according to the Tunisian Press Agency (TAP.)
The National Council of the Democratic Current, also known as the Attayar Party, similarly rejected the concept of a technocratic cabinet on Monday. A statement by Attayar said the new prime minister-designate had “embarked on fictitious talks.”
The political situation in Tunisia has deteriorated since its much-lauded Jasmine Revolution that saw the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Ever since, political intransigence and petty political power struggles have dominated the country’s political process.
With little response from the government, living standards in Tunisia have declined and economic development slowed from 3% prior to the revolution to 1% growth before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tunisia’s tourism-dependent economy is now set to shrink 21.6% due to the virus’s impact on the economy.
Amid political infighting and continued poor performance on health, education, and basics like electricity and water supply, Tunisians have returned to the streets. The COVID-19 pandemic hampered political protests, but the collective adherence to preventive measures led to only 63 coronavirus-related deaths out of 2,543 total cases.
Yet Tunisia’s economy continued to deteriorate with structural unemployment for both low-skilled and educated workers. Local manufacturing and tourism were heavily hit and desperation grew.
Mechichi appears to now build on his own reputation as a political independent to produce a politically neutral cabinet. It remains to be seen whether Mechichi will be able to appease parliament and whether Tunisians will see his cabinet as a solution, or another sign that Tunisian politics do not represent the average citizen.