Tunisian president rejects reshuffle, escalating political crisis

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Tunisia’s president indicated on Monday he would reject an expected cabinet reshuffle, escalating a dispute with the prime minister as a political logjam undermines efforts to tackle the pandemic and its economic fallout.

Kais Saied said the reshuffle would be unconstitutional on procedural grounds, condemned the absence of women among the prospective new ministers and said some likely new cabinet members may have conflicts of interest, without giving details.

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The political paralysis comes as the COVID-19 crisis weakens an already battered economy that shrank more than 8 percent last year, and as both foreign lenders and Tunisia’s powerful union urge fast reforms.

Protests against inequality and police abuses have also been building.

Tunisia has been politically all but deadlocked since two separate elections in 2019 put Saied into office but left a deeply fragmented parliament in which no party held more than a quarter of the seats.

The constitution worked out in 2014 after the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy gave parliament the main voice in forming a government. But the president also has a role in a complex system of approvals and vetoes.

It took several months after the election for a government to form early last year, but it only lasted until the summer before falling in a scandal as the pandemic took hold.

Saied then proposed Hichem Mechichi as prime minister, but fell out with him soon afterwards despite the successful formation of a government that narrowly won parliamentary backing.

Mechichi is expected to unveil his proposed new cabinet this week.

The political jostling among parties and prominent figures that has accompanied each stage of the process has delayed government efforts to tackle longstanding reforms.

Tunisia’s economy was not delivering even before the pandemic, with sluggish growth, high deficits and public debt and failing state-owned companies.

Joblessness, inequality and declining public services have angered many Tunisians, tarnishing the country’s achievement in throwing off autocratic rule a decade ago and introducing democracy.

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