At the Sidi Bahri market in Tunis, shoppers were pleased with the president’s attacks on corruption and high prices since he seized control of the government last month in moves his foes called a coup.
President Kais Saied has criticized Tunisia’s economic policy, urged traders to charge less for food and medicine and accused unnamed businessmen of stealing billions of dollars while police are investigating corruption in state industry.
For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.
“The citizen feels reassured and prices have gone down in everything,” said Azza Belwaer, a 36-year-old medical equipment vendor buying groceries in Sidi Bahri.
However, three weeks after Saied sacked the prime minister and froze parliament, he has yet to appoint a new government, articulate any broad economic policy or say how he intends to finance the public deficit and debt repayments.
His intervention has paused much-delayed talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan program that was expected to unlock further economic assistance and avert a crisis in public finances.
Tunisia paid back more than $1 billion in debt this summer from foreign currency reserves, but must find about $5 billion more to finance its projected budget deficit and more loan repayments.
The economy shrank 8.2 percent last year while a deficit of 11.5 percent drove public debt to 87 percent of gross domestic product, according to the IMF. Both the powerful labor union and foreign lenders see little choice but to resume the IMF process.
“We support negotiations with the IMF... we have no options,” said Mohamed Ali Boughdiri, deputy head of the UGTT union.
“The clock is ticking on the economic challenge,” said a Western diplomat, adding the reforms needed to secure an IMF loan would be important in gaining more assistance.
Such reforms -- including redirecting subsidies and shrinking one of the world’s heaviest public sector wage burdens -- are unpopular and would come at a moment when the public mood is highly volatile.
Anger at economic stagnation, aggravated by the pandemic, helped drive apparently widespread popular support for Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25.
Successive governments have failed to resolve the problems, often pulled between the demands of foreign lenders and the UGTT.
Boughdiri said Saied had an opportunity to take advantage of “broad popular support” to propose urgent change, adding the UGTT backed some reform of state-owned companies and a review of subsidies.
It sees efforts to combat corruption, tax evasion and the informal economy as priorities, he said. Though the IMF has also urged efforts to reduce those, it sees tackling the public wages and subsidies as more pressing.
Whatever he does, Saied will now be held responsible for resolving Tunisia’s chronic economic troubles -- potentially undermining the political transformation in which he appears most interested.
“In the big picture, these events have unleashed enormous expectations. It’s going to be very difficult for him to meet those. He’ll need the help of Tunisia’s friends and an inclusive approach,” said the diplomat.
Tunisian president says there is ‘no turning back,’ rejects calls for talks
Tunisia’s labor union urges ‘rapid’ new PM appointment
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied receives US delegation carrying message from Biden
Tunisia’s army staying impartial politically is a win-win for the nationAfter the exceptional and unprecedented measures taken by Tunisian President Kais Saied last month to freeze parliament functions, lift legal immunity ... Opinion
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied receives US delegation carrying message from BidenTunisian President Kais Saied on Friday received an official US delegation headed by deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer, who carried a ... North Africa
Tunisia arrests 14 officials in phosphate corruption probeTunisia has taken 14 officials into custody on suspicion of corruption in the phosphate industry, Mohsen Dali, a judiciary spokesman, said on Thursday ... North Africa
Tunisian President Saied says he is not an advocate of coupsTunisian President Kais Saied stressed that he is not one of the advocates of “coups” but calls for the application of the law to everyone ... North Africa
Saied needs to move quickly for his power grab in Tunisia to succeedAs Tunisia’s President Kais Saied, reshuffled the country’s political landscape, a rift has divided the nation. The constitutional and political ... Opinion
UAE supports Tunisian president’s decisions: OfficialThe United Arab Emirates supports the Tunisian state and decisions by President Kais Saied, an advisor to the UAE president said on Saturday after ... North Africa
Tunisian president says there is ‘no turning back,’ rejects calls for talksTunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves ... North Africa
Tunisia’s labor union urges ‘rapid’ new PM appointmentTunisia’s powerful labor union on Tuesday urged the president to rapidly announce a new government some nine days after he seized executive control in ... North Africa