Tunisian President Names Obscure Official as Premier Amid Crises
Tunisia’s president picked a relatively obscure official as prime minister, the latest indication he intends for now to keep control of the North African nation’s levers of power two months after suspending parliament amid a growing economic crisis.
The office of President Kais Saied announced the appointment of Najla Bouden Romdhane in a statement Wednesday. Local media said she was the first woman to hold the position in Tunisia’s history.
Romdhane, who according to local broadcaster Mosaique FM, worked at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was picked about a week after Saied assumed sweeping powers that allow him to govern by decree. That was seen as a possible precursor to an attempt to amend the constitution in a rare fully-fledged Arab democracy.
Saied, elected on an anti-establishment platform, has repeatedly lashed out against corruption and cronyism in the government, using that as a key justification for his power grab. The appointment of a largely unknown bureaucrat appears to drive home that message.
In addition, Romdhane has been in charge of implementing the World Bank program in Tunisia -- a position that could help appease international donors, said political analyst Sarhan Chikhaoui.
“She will implement the president’s policies and respond to his requests because she does not have political experience,” Chikhaoui said. “She is an administrator.”
Saied’s moves to dislodge the political establishment were initially welcomed by many Tunisians. But opposition has grown in key quarters, including the powerful UGTT labor union, over concerns about an erosion of democracy and a lack of a clearly defined road map to exit the country from its economic crisis.
The impasse is delaying a long-awaited deal with the International Monetary Fund and plans to sell debt overseas.
External debt’s on track to reach almost 100% of gross domestic product next year. Inflation is at its highest since fall 2019, and unemployment is rising at its fastest pace since 2010, when simmering discontent exploded against dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, kicking off the Arab Spring uprisings.
Since 2011, frequent changes of government, sporadic terrorist attacks targeting the key tourism sector, and Covid contributed to the malaise. The economy shrank 8.6% last year.
Saied can now issue legislative and executive edicts without resorting to government or parliament, including pacts with international lenders, appointments and dismissals to senior positions and approval of the state’s budget, according to a presidential order published in the official gazette last week.
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