TUNIS – Tunisia’s parliament approved a technocratic government in a confidence vote on Wednesday, hoping to end months of political instability and focus on tackling worsening economic and social problems.
There were 134 votes in favour and 67 against forming the government.
The debate, which started on Tuesday, was held amid a tussle for influence between the president and major parties.
“The government formation comes at a time political instability and the people’s patience has reached its limit,” prime minister-designate Hichem Mechichi told parliament as the debate began.
“Our priority will be to address the economic and social situation… stop the bleeding of public finances, start talks with lenders and begin reform programmes, including for public companies and subsidies,” he added.
Under plans to revamp the government and revive the economy, Mechichi gathered the ministries of finance, investment and economy into a single department led by liberal economist Ali Kooli, chief executive of Arab Banking Corporation (ABC Bank) in Tunisia.
Although President Kais Saied proposed Mechichi as prime minister, Tunisian politicians say he has since dropped his support, underscoring the potential for tensions between the presidency and government.
Officials from parties said Saied had asked them to vote against Mechichi’s government and to instead continue with a caretaker government.
Tunisia is the only Arab state that managed a peaceful transition to democracy after the “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept through the region in 2011.
But its economy has been crippled by high debt and deteriorating public services, made worse by the global coronavirus pandemic, and a year of political uncertainty has complicated efforts to address those problems.
Tunisia’s tourism-dependent economy shrank 21.6% in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the same period last year, due to the coronavirus crisis.
Mechichi’s effort to form an administration is the third since October’s parliamentary election, after the cabinet rejected one proposed cabinet in January and a second government quit in July after less than five months in office.
Although previous bouts of political discord in Tunisia have focused on the split between secularists and Islamists, or over economic reforms, the current tensions seem more rooted in the division of powers between president and parliament.
Saied, a political independent who won the presidency in a landslide last year, has said he wants to amend the political system.