Tunisia’s new political order likely to test Ennahda’s governing mettle

Tunisians now know what the full picture of the political landscape, changed by the recent presidential and legislative elections, will look like.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Tunisia’s Prime Minister-designate Habib Jemli (L) takes his Letter of Assignment from President Kais Saied at the Carthage Presidential Palace in Tunis, November 15. (AFP)
New lineup. Tunisia’s Prime Minister-designate Habib Jemli (L) takes his Letter of Assignment from President Kais Saied at the Carthage Presidential Palace in Tunis, November 15. (AFP)

TUNIS - With the election of Ennahda President Rached Ghannouchi as parliament speaker and the nomination of Habib Jemli, a former junior agriculture minister, as prime minister, Tunisians now know the shape of the political landscape that has been greatly altered by recent presidential and legislative elections.

Their main concern is that Tunisian politics, and thus the government, is too segmented and contentious to focus on immediate priorities.

Jemli, 60, served in the Islamist-led cabinet headed by Ennahda-affiliated Prime Ministers Hamadi Jebali and Ali Laarayedh at the end of 2011.

The most salient feature of Tunisia’s new political landscape is its apparent domination by Ennahda, despite a very splintered parliament that is likely to have trouble acting on legislation.

Ennahda ensured the election of Ghannouchi as speaker of parliament because of an about-face by the Qalb Tounes party, a former arch-political foe.

However, it is not clear whether Qalb Tounes, led by media magnate Nabil Karoui, will participate in the formation of the new government or whether it will give it its approval to Jemli’s proposed cabinet, which must be put to a parliamentary vote in less than two months.

Ennahda’s new ties to Qalb Tounes contradict its efforts to adopt a “revolutionary” narrative that renounces consensus politics with former regime members.

Ennahda’s leadership in parliament and its performance in government are likely to come under intense scrutiny while Tunisia faces many challenges, including the prospect of receiving scores of Islamic State extremists from Turkey and developments in neighbouring Algeria and Libya.

The new government’s true mettle will be facing the country’s daunting economic problems. With GDP growth at slightly more than 1%, the economy is ill-equipped to create enough jobs to address the more than 15% unemployment rate. An impatient population dealing with high prices and a deteriorating standard of living will offer any government limited margin to manoeuvre.

It is unknown what kind of relationship the Ennahda-dominated institutions will strike with President Kais Saied. The new head of state, like Ennahda, holds socially conservative views and veers towards identity politics.

Saied sees socio-economic woes as Tunisia’s priority. His likely desire to use his grace period to boost his constitutionally limited prerogatives could be a contentious issue as he tries to chart a course of change in the country, as he promised during his campaign.

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