Tunisia’s rainbow government faces cloudy future


Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s new government promises to be the most inclusive since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, encompassing all six major parties, independents and allies of often hostile trade unions.

But even before parliament votes to approve it, Chahed’s experiment with diversity is running into the kind of pressures and divisions that have doomed his predecessors’ attempts to win the political capital needed to push through reforms.

Tunisia’s transition since a 2011 uprising overthrew autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali has been hailed as a model for the Arab world with free elections and a new constitution.

But successive governments in the North African state have struggled with growing Islamist militant violence, social unrest and slow progress on economic reforms demanded by international lenders and needed to create growth and jobs.

Dissent is already visible inside Chahed’s own Nidaa Tounes party, some of whose 54 parliamentarians threatened over the weekend to quit.
“At least 19 lawmakers threatened to resign from the party because the government included some incompetent people,” Issam Mattoussi, a lawmaker told reporters on Sunday after an angry meeting of Nidaa Tounes parliamentarians.

Rached Ghannouchi, chief of the largest party in parliament, the Islamist Ennahda, said it endorsed the government, praising the inclusion of leftists, Islamists, liberals and syndicalists for the first time.

But the head of Ennahda’s Shura Council, the party’s supreme ruling authority, said he had reservations over the premier’s choices. Ennahda has 69 seats.
“Ennahda will not accept any official suspected of corruption or those looking to exclude others,” Abd El Karim Harouni said, in an indirect reference to Ennahda’s leftist critics.

An ally of President Beji Caid Essebsi, Chahed is likely to get the 109 votes he needs to win a confidence ballot in the 217-seat parliament, and some of the sniping may simply reflect manoeuvring from parties looking to secure more influential posts in the cabinet.

But the early resistance points to a high risk of the sort of splits developing that dogged previous governments.

Chahed’s predecessor, Habib Essid, was toppled by lawmakers in a vote of no confidence, partly because of perceived delays to economic reforms made more acute by a wave of strikes and sit-ins.

Meanwhile, sources said Chahed will meet on Monday with parties that have reservations about his cabinet.

Added to that list on Monday was the liberal Afek Tounes party, which threatened to pull out if the make-up of the government was not changed.
“If this diversity is not well managed, it will be a weak point and increase confusion over the government’s work,” Nizar Makni, columnist with Tunisia’s influential Arabic language daily Assabeh, wrote. “Only more political conflicts are expected.”