Ennahda joins new government lineup

The new government lineup announced by Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid raised controversy, as some considered it a maneuver to include Afek Tunis and Ennahda in the government.

al-monitor Tunisia's nominated Prime Minister Habib Essid (L) gives the list of the new government to President Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis, Jan. 23, 2015..

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tunisia, nidaa tunis, habib essid, government, ennahda, afek tunis

Feb 4, 2015

On Feb. 2, Habib Essid unveiled the second lineup of his government. During a press conference that was as quick as the previous one, the head of government submitted a new version of the government's composition. A political government team was established following tough negotiations. First observation: Essid’s position is already weakened!

The first lesson deduced from this new lineup is that Essid caved to partisan pressures. Indeed, his new team includes members from two parties that were not part of the first government lineup: Ennahda and Afek Tunis. Yassine Brahim and Samira Merai were respectively assigned as minister of investment and international cooperation and minister of women, family and children. Ennahda was accorded two secretaries of state as well as the minister of vocational training and employment, [whose leadership was] assumed by Zied Laadhari. Therefore, the new list of names proposed by Essid includes all four parties: Nidaa Tunis, Ennahda, Afek Tunis and the Free Patriotic Union.

This should guarantee Essid an easy vote of confidence before the Assembly of People's Representatives. This was precisely Essid’s objective for integrating these two new parties into the government's composition — to overcome the assembly vote of confidence challenge unhindered and to be able to claim that he had formed a government of national unity.

There have been changes in this government, but not in all branches. Indeed, the names of those appointed in charge of the four sovereign ministries remained unchanged despite criticism. The appointment of Mohamed Najem Gharsalli, minister of the interior, had raised questions. His supposed close ties to Ennahda during his term as governor were frequently mentioned on one hand, and his past as a judge was strongly condemned by his colleagues, such as Kalthoum Kennou, on the other. Essid refused to change his [new] government lineup, as he had managed to create a fragile balance, and it would be risky to question the lineup today. Several leaks had raised the name of Karoui Chebbi Lazher as defense minister to replace Farhat Horchani but this did not happen. But Chebbi got a consolation prize by being appointed personal representative of the president of the republic, Beji Caid Essebsi.

This sensitivity to political pressures and the obligation to share portfolios has a perverse effect: Essid will begin his mission in a weakened position. Evidence of this weakness is the changes in the government’s structure. When comparing the two cabinet compositions proposed by Essid, and notwithstanding changes regarding names, it is important to note that several ministerial portfolios or state secretariats have changed or were eliminated. For example, the secretariat of state in charge of taxation and levies no longer exists, and a state secretariat in charge of housing was created. In addition to the structure, we may note a change in terms of some names. Former Minister of Commerce Slim Shaker was appointed minister of economy and finance, Khadija Cherif is no longer the minister of women and Mohsen Hassan is no longer minister of tourism.

This change in government structures and the proposed names does not bode well, according to some observers. Indeed, the urgent programs to be undertaken by the new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Essid require a clear vision. Some believe that they saw a glimpse of this vision at the first presentation of Essid’s government lineup, at least at the level of structures. However, this did not withstand partisan pressures, so everything was put into question at the first difficulty. The delivered message is somewhat worrying, because this government will face a multitude of other difficulties.

The only objective sought by Essid is to gather maximum votes to be able to gain confidence in the assembly. Essid wishes to convey a message of national cohesion and unity through a government that obtains an almost unanimous [vote of] confidence. However, it is a heterogeneous formation that will face challenges related to employment, unemployment and the high cost of living. It is also a cabinet formation whose composition does not seem to be based on a program or a plan of action.

A political party, the Popular Front, has already expressed its disagreement with this composition and will, in fact, find itself in the opposition camp. MP Ammar Amroussia, a leader in the party, announced this Feb. 2 by associating consultations on the composition of the new government with political maneuvers and conspiracies. Mongi Rahoui said on Nessma TV that this government was based on imaginary consensuses.

Several doubts surround the new composition proposed by Essid. Analysts and observers agree that this composition is the result of political pressure aimed at involving Afek Tunis and Ennahda in the government. Between the program of this government and the necessity that the team proposed by Essid obtain confidence, sacrifices were made. Today, the repercussions of this government composition can also be seen in Nidaa Tunis and Ennahda. The two parties that fought a brutal war during the two campaigns will find themselves today side by side within the same government. The future may be full of surprises.

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