Tunisia's civil society pressures Saied to appoint PM

President has yet to name a new head of government 10 days after seizing power

Security forces guard the main entrance of the Tunisian Parliament in the capital Tunis, as  demonstrators scale the gates, after President Kais Saied suspended the legislature. AP
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Civil society groups have called on Tunisia's President Kais Saied to appoint a new prime minister and present his road map for a route out of the current constitutional crisis.

This comes 10 days after Mr Saied took the reins of the country for himself, freezing Parliament and dismissing Hichem Mechichi as prime minister, in an attempt, he said, to tackle Tunisia's problems.

On Wednesday, several of the most prominent groups issued a joint statement calling for “a clear and defined timeline” for the resolution of the situation, and demanding the inclusion of civil society in the process.

The signatories, which include the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, the Association of Tunisian Judges, the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights and the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, called for a government to be formed immediately.

They stressed that it should feature gender parity.

Several possible candidates for the position of prime minister have been floated in recent days, including Marouane Abassi, the governor of the central bank, who met Mr Saied at the presidential palace earlier in the week.

"So far, no final decision has been taken regarding the new prime minister, but the pace is fast in this direction," Walid Al Hajjam, adviser to Mr Saied, told the state-owned TAP news agency on Wednesday.

Mr Saied has appointed interim ministers at the interior and finance ministries, but the power to make those appointments permanent, and form the rest of the Cabinet, lies with whoever he appoints as prime minister.

Tunisia's robust civil society has long played an important role in the country's politics and culture, and their influence has only grown since the 2011 revolution.

In their statement, the group also called for a review of election laws, claiming that the current system had resulted in “formal representative bodies that do not express the concerns of citizens”, and asked for investigations on issues of campaign finance and corruption.

They said Mr Saied's road map out of the crisis must respect the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Mr Saied seized control of the judiciary in his power grab on July 25.

The signatories insisted that the judiciary be given the freedom to take on cases “related to political assassinations, terrorism ... and financial and administrative corruption” without interference.

Mr Saied enjoyed broad support for his unilateral move early in the crisis – a July 29 poll showed nearly 87 per cent approval of his decision – but enthusiasm has slipped as more time passes without a clear plan or a government.

An Insights TN poll released on August 4 showed that just 58 per cent of respondents were “comfortable with the president's decision".

One powerful organisation that has backed the president's move is the General Tunisian Labour Union (UGTT), which has played a major role in the country since independence. Its secretary general, Noureddine Taboubi, told TAP on Thursday that the union felt there “was a need for bold decisions to salvage the country".

He warned, however, that the UGTT's support was not a “blank cheque” for the president. He stressed the need for a new government to be formed quickly, and for Mr Saied to respect human rights.

Updated: August 06, 2021, 3:58 PM