Economic challenges face Tunisia's new coalition

Parliament is expected to approve Fakhfakh's cabinet.
Wednesday 26/02/2020
Tunisia's prime minister designate Elyes Fakhfakh speaks at the Assembly of People's Representatives in Tunis, Tunisia February 26. (Reuters)
Tunisia's prime minister designate Elyes Fakhfakh speaks at the Assembly of People's Representatives in Tunis, Tunisia February 26. (Reuters)

TUNIS - Tunisia's parliament began debating on Wednesday and looked set to approve a new coalition government, after months of political wrangling that has slowed the north African country's efforts to tackle looming economic problems.

Elyes Fakhfakh, who was designated prime minister last month by President Kais Saied, has brought several parties from across the political spectrum into his cabinet - and they continue to disagree on several big policy areas.

Despite the announced opposition to the cabinet by the Qalb Tounes and Free Destourian Party parliamentary blocs, his government is expected to pass a confidence vote later on Wednesday. But it may prove fragile after struggling to reconcile the differences over policy and cabinet positions.

If it were to lose the vote, another parliamentary election would be held. A recent poll has shown that if elections were held earlier this month, Qalb Tounes would have taken the lead followed by the anti-Islamist Free Destourrian Party and then by Ennahda's Islamists. 

The last election, held in October, produced a deeply fragmented house in which no party won more than a quarter of the seats. An earlier attempt to form a government was defeated in a confidence vote in January.

Introducing his proposed government's programme in parliament on Wednesday, Fakhfakh said its priorities would include fighting widespread corruption and reforming public services and the state phosphate producer.

It would work to maintain the value of the currency, which has recovered in recent months after years of decline, he added. Central Bank governor Marwan Abbasi said this month that the International Monetary Fund had been in favour of the dinar losing some value to bolster exports.

The new government would immediately face a major economic challenge after years of low growth, persistent unemployment, big government deficits, mounting debt, high inflation, a weak currency and deteriorating public services.

The 2019 economic growth rate was at 1%

It will need to find new external financing after an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme ends in April, with no new support yet agreed.

(With news agencies)