Tunisia faces calls for government reshuffle

Tunisia has had eight governments since the 2011 revolution, and political parties are now calling for yet another government reshuffle and for the removal of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

al-monitor Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (C) stands during a group photo at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Islamic Development Bank Group, Tunis, Tunisia, April 4, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi.

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carthage document, youssef chahed, crisis, nidaa tunis, ennahda, government, revolution, habib essid

Jun 4, 2018

TUNIS, Tunisia — The Nidaa Tunis Party, which Prime Minister Youssef Chahed belongs to and which is one of the primary partners in the ruling coalition, released a statement May 29 saying that Chahed’s current government foresees a political crisis.

In the statement, Nidaa Tunis criticized those who oppose a government reshuffle by saying they are "looking out for the national interest and stability.” The party was referring to its partner in rule — Ennahda — whose head, Rached Ghannouchi, said May 28, “Maintaining the current government ensures stability for Tunisia.” 

In a meeting held May 22 in Carthage Palace and led by President Beji Caid Essebsi, Nidaa Tunis, the Free Patriotic Union, the Tunisian General Labor Union and the National Union for Tunisian Women (a Tunisian organization addressing women’s affairs) called for comprehensive governmental change, including replacing Chahed as prime minister. Meanwhile, Ennahda, the National Destourian Initiative, the Social Democratic Path and the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fishery labor organization demanded only partial change in government that would keep Chahed as prime minister.

Samira al-Shawashi, a leader of the Free Patriotic Union, told the private Tunisian station Mosaique FM on May 25 that her party wants the government changed. She said everybody except for Ennahda agreed on the importance of a deep governmental change that includes all ministries and their heads.

The controversy has to do with the Carthage Document, signed by a number of parties and organizations on June 24, 2016, under the auspices of Essebsi. It resulted in the formation of a national unity government headed by Chahed. 

The Carthage Document outlined six goals, including winning the war against terrorism and fighting corruption.

However, following calls by the Tunisian General Labor Union for a government reshuffle due to the ruling coalition's failure to solve the economic and social problems plaguing Tunisia, the document was amended May 3 to include new economic and social programs and named Carthage Document II.

On May 28, the document was suspended indefinitely due to the failure of the parties to agree on the fate of the current government.

Tunisian parties and organizations have been holding wide-scale deliberations since March regarding changing Chahed’s government to break the country’s economic stagnation and the failure of the government to address development and employment issues.

The Tunisian General Labor Union withdrew from the Carthage Document after it was suspended to protest the failure to agree on dismissing Chahed.

Hafez Caid Essebsi, the president’s son and executive director of Nidaa Tunis, published a post on his official Facebook page May 23 defending the party’s demands to change the government.

Hafez mentioned in his post that the government has failed to solve the country’s problems, and he listed the reasons behind his call for change.

The general stances such as those of Nidaa Tunis, the Free Patriotic Union and the Tunisian General Labor Union calling for changing the government, and the statements of key political players who cite Chahed’s failure to implement the goals in the Carthage Document, suggest that the current government — the eighth since the outbreak of the Jasmine Revolution on Dec. 17, 2010 — is in its last days, and that Tunisia is preparing for a ninth government.

Chahed, 41, is the youngest politician tasked with spearheading a government in Tunisia since its independence from France in 1956. His government took charge Aug. 26, 2016.

According to the Tunisian Constitution, the president, who is elected every five years, must appoint the prime minister based on the recommendation of the majority party in parliament. Essebsi announced an initiative June 2, 2016, that resulted in the signing of the Carthage Document, whose aim was to change the government of then-Prime Minister Habib Essid. The document became an agreement binding the prime minister.

Tunisian parliament members accused the president of taking over parliament’s powers since only the legislature has the constitutional authority to change the government.

Political analyst Mohammad Bou Oud told Al-Monitor, “We are about to bid the eighth government farewell, and Chahed’s departure along with his government is imminent.”

He underlined that the change will negatively affect citizens’ and investors’ peace of mind, obstruct Tunisia’s economic development and create a deep political crisis.

Before Chahed, seven figures had served as premiers since former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled Jan. 14, 2011. They include Mohammad al-Ghannouchi (between Jan. 14, 2011, and Feb. 27, 2011), Essebsi (between Feb. 27, 2011, and Dec. 24, 2011), Hamadi al-Jibali (between Dec. 24, 2011, and March 13, 2013), Ali Laarayedh (between March 13, 2013, and Jan. 29, 2014), Mehdi Gomaa (between Jan. 29, 2014, and Feb. 6, 2015) and Essid (between Feb. 6, 2015, and Aug. 27, 2016).

Laarayedh told Al-Monitor that the constant change of governments indicates a return to ground zero in developmental projects and social negotiations. It will also halt some projects and affect their quality and effectiveness.

He said the constant changing of ministers has paralyzed the execution of powers proposed by governments, as a premier who feels he might be replaced any minute will not dare open the major developmental and social files.

Economic expert Wajdi Bin Rajab told Al-Monitor that changing governments within short periods of time (at the pace of one government a year) has hugely harmed Tunisia's economy. Tunisia’s sovereign rating dropped from B1 to B2 in March 2018, thus affecting investment.

Rajab said governmental instability affects international transactions and investors’ trust in economic stability, thus pushing them to reconsider potential investments or projects in Tunisia.

The global credit rating agency Fitch warned May 28 in a statement of Tunisia's unstable future and noted the risky political dimension that threatens to reposition the parties before the legislative and presidential elections in 2019, all of which may lead to instability at the government level.

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