Tunisia’s Islamists suffer political blow after parliamentary rejection of cabinet
TUNIS - Most political alliances in the Tunisia parliament have rejected a government proposed by Prime Minister-designate Habib Jemli, who had been nominated by the Islamist Ennahda Movement, serving a stinging blow to the party and showing its growing isolation.
Ennahda leaders had boasted about their ability to get parliament to endorse Jemli’s 42-member cabinet but the 217-seat parliament voted down the proposed government, 134-72.
Some MPs from Ennahda and its ally, the more radical Islamist Karama Coalition, were among those voting against the Jemli cabinet.
Ennahda has 54 parliament members and Karama, which describes itself as the “radical base of Ennahda,” has 21.
The vote leaves Tunisia in a political quandary. It is the first time the country’s parliament delivered a vote of no-confidence in a government in the nine years of Tunisia’s democratic transition.
The parliamentary rejection could unravel Ennahda President Rached Ghannouchi’s strategy. Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, was leading an Ennahda drive to build decisive control over executive and legislative powers, despite hostility of a diverse coalition of parliament members and a growing rift with Tunisian President Kais Saied.
The law stipulates that the president had ten days to select a replacement for Jemli to build a coalition able to gather a majority in parliament. If the impasse drags on, snap parliamentary elections could be called.
Ennahda resisted proposals by other groups to form a “government of the president.” Constitutionally, Saied can select a prime minister-designate to form a cabinet able to receive a parliamentary majority. Some secularist formations have been pushing for a government free of Ennahda’s control, with the help of Saied.
Ennahda has had a constant and powerful presence in successive governments since 2011, when it did well in several elections, benefiting from strong party discipline and conservative support.
However, when Ennahda leaders insisted that their designated government would “certainly” be approved, parliament members assailed them for “moral collapse” and said they were betting on buying votes of “corrupt” deputies from other parties.
Ennahda denied accusations of attempting to “influence” deputies of other parties.
Safi Said, an independent MP and former presidential candidate, said before the vote: “I’m not here to fire on an ambulance as this government is stillborn. I am here to attend the session to witness the burial of this government.”
The defeat of the Islamists in the parliament appeared certain when Nabil Karoui, leader of the liberal Qalb Tounes party, declared before the vote: “Ennahda becomes an ogre and wants to monopolise everything and we will not allow that to happen.”
“Ennahda has 25% of the seats in the parliament and it behaves like it has 80%,” he added. “It won the presidency of the parliament and eyes control of government. I’m not against Ennahda but we oppose its approach and we will not allow it.”
Qalb Tounes controls the second most seats in parliament.
Before October’s elections, Ennahda had pledged not to align with Qalb Tounes, saying Karoui was “overshadowed by suspicions of corruption.” However, it convinced Qalb Tounes to support Ghannouchi, 78, in the vote for speaker last November.
Ghannouchi met with Karoui a few hours before the vote on the proposed government.
Analysts were left searching for Ennahda’s motives in designating Jemli, a virtually unknown and politically inexperienced, as prime minister without securing the required political backing.
Some analysts said the loss of the parliament vote was a “failure and a defeat” for Ennahda and Ghannouchi.
The delay in forming a government adds to concerns about economic instability. The unemployment rate is more than 15% nationally and is as high as 30% in some regions. Inflation remains high, the country’s currency is weak and successive governments have struggled to rein in high budget and trade deficits and control debt.
Tunisia is also bracing for the effects of the intensifying conflict in neighbouring Libya, with security forces on high alert to guard against the possible infiltration of jihadists.
Youssef Chahed, who has served as prime minister since 2016 and was a losing candidate in the presidential election, is to continue his role in a caretaker capacity until a new government is appointed.