Ghannouchi loyalist is picked as prime minister-designate

Ennahda’s change of tack came when the Islamists are at their lowest point in terms of voter support and acceptance by main political groups.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Tunisian President Kais Saied shakes hands with Prime Minister designate Habib Jemli in Tunis, Tunisia, in this handout pictured obtained by Reuters on November 15, 2019. (Reuters)
Tunisian President Kais Saied shakes hands with Prime Minister designate Habib Jemli in Tunis, Tunisia, in this handout pictured obtained by Reuters on November 15, 2019. (Reuters)

TUNIS - Tunisia’s Islamists selected Habib Jemli, a farming specialist who previously worked in Ennahda-led governments and is perceived as a trusted ally of Ennahda Movement President Rached Ghannouchi, as prime minister-designate.

The choice seemed to confirm Ennahda’s decision to control the Tunisian government for the next five years.

An agricultural engineer by training, Jemli, 60, served as secretary of state at the Agriculture Ministry from 2011-14 under Ennahda Prime Ministers Hamadi Jebali and Ali Larayedh.

His official profile states he has “no political affiliation” but Ennahda leaders describe him as a sympathiser “close to the party.”

Tunisian President Kais Saied charged Jemli with forming a new government, the presidency said in a statement. Jemli said competence would be the primary criterion for participation in the cabinet.

The announcement was made November 15, two days after Ghannouchi was elected parliament speaker as the Islamists tightened their hold on government power in a shift of strategy since Islamists’ resurgence nine years ago.

Ennahda’s change of tack came when the Islamists are at their lowest point in terms of voter support and acceptance by main political groups.

November 15 had been the deadline for Ennahda, as the party with the most seats (52) in parliament, to announce its candidate for prime minister. Ennahda needs the support of other groups, however, to gather at least 109 votes in the 217-member parliament to secure approval for Jemli and his cabinet.

Ennahda said it chose “a person known for his competence, integrity and experience in administration” but some experts said Jemli’s noted loyalty to Ghannouchi was the overriding factor.

“The choice of Jemli was advocated by Ghannouchi himself. Ghannouchi insisted against all odds to confirm the selection of Jemli, whom he deems as the most loyal and able to meet his wishes,” said political writer Ali Mhedhbi.

“Thus, from his chair as speaker Ghannouchi will control the two branches of the government. The best way to conduct his policy.”

Adnen Manser, a former presidential adviser with knowledge of the inner workings of Ennahda said: “With Jemli nominated, what is certain is that Ghannouchi will not be only the speaker but also the real power in the cabinet, especially if his own men will be ministers and that what will happen.”

“This shift in the desire to control everything and centralise the power into one single hand does not tie-up with the trend of the public opinion and the culture of the people,” Manser said. “The success of forming the government with a tight numerical majority is the beginning of failure.”

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