2021-09-29 14:27:05 Tunisian President Appoints Prime Minister Amid Protests Over Power Grab

Tunisian President Appoints Prime Minister Amid Protests Over Power Grab

TUNIS, Tunisia Tunisia’s president named a new prime minister on Wednesday, amid mounting criticism of a series of steps he has taken in the last two months to consolidate power in his own hands.

President Kais Saied appointed Najla Bouden Romdhan, a director-general at the Ministry of Higher Education who oversees a World Bank-funded program aimed at modernizing the country’s higher education system. She is the first female president. The appointment came more than two months after he suspended Parliament, fired the prime minister, and took control of the country in what opponents dubbed a “coup.”

Mr. Saied promised in July to re-establish a prime minister, and the appointment technically fulfills that promise while doing little to check his rapid rise to power. The new prime minister, a former geology professor at the National School of Engineering, appears to lack political experience, making her unlikely to pose a significant threat to the president.

Mr. Saied is in complete control of Tunisia, having granted himself the authority to rule by decree, write legislation unilaterally, propose changes to the political system, and suspend parts of the Constitution. He has arrested several political opponents and imposed travel bans and asset freezes on businesspeople and judges while Parliament is closed and the judiciary, military, and security services are under his control.

All of this has occurred with the approval of the majority of Tunisians, who saw Mr. Saied’s July 25 power grab as their only chance to break the country’s political impasse and escape the country’s economic and health crises.

However, as the months have passed without Mr. Saied presenting a clear plan for political or economic reforms, Tunisians have grown increasingly concerned about the threat to their fledgling democracy, the only one to emerge from the Arab Spring protests that engulfed the region a decade ago.

On Sunday, at least 2,000 people demonstrated against his actions, demanding that he call an end to his “coup.” He is facing increasing criticism from political parties and media outlets, including some who previously supported him.

Mr. Saied stated on July 25 that his actions were only temporary responses to Tunisia’s emergencies and that he would appoint a new head of government within 30 days, but he later extended his “exceptional measures.” Despite mounting domestic and international pressure, he has maintained the suspension of Parliament and rejected calls for dialogue.

The president may hope to counter perceptions among Tunisian feminists that he does not support full gender equality due to his opposition to equal inheritance for men and women by appointing Tunisia’s first female prime minister.

However, now that Mr. Saied has concentrated power in his own hands, she is likely to have less power than previous prime ministers and will be unable to do much more than run the day-to-day operations of government.

The prime minister is mandated by the Constitution to appoint a cabinet, but Mr. Saied delegated that authority to himself last week, declaring that the constitutional provision would simply no longer apply.

Reporting was contributed by Massinissa Benlakehal.

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Tunisian President Appoints Prime Minister Amid Protests Over Power Grab