Tunisia's sacked prime minister says he won't cling on

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi was fired by the president on Sunday as part of a major shake up

Tunisia's sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi shared a message on Facebook on Monday.
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Tunisia’s sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi says he won't battle to stay on as he blamed the political fragmentation for the country's economic crisis.

In a statement late on Monday, one day after President Kais Saied fired the prime minister and suspended Parliament for 30 days, Mr Mechichi said he would not hold on to his position and pledged to hand over responsibility to whomever the president chooses to be the next prime minister.

“I cannot, in any way, be a disruptive element or part of a crisis in our country at a time when all political parties need to act in unison to get out of the current limbo,” he said.

“Acting in the best interest of all Tunisians and to protect the country from spiralling into an abyss, I will not defy the latest decisions and hold on to power.”

Mr Saied, who came to power in 2019 after winning 72 per cent of the public vote, invoked emergency powers under the constitution late on Sunday to dismiss Mr Mechichi and suspend parliament.

The president extended existing Covid-19 restrictions on movement on Monday and vowed any violent opposition will be met with force. He has rejected accusations from his political opponents of staging a coup.

Rival groups faced off outside the parliament building on Monday, pelting each other with stones and hurling insults, but the size of the protests was limited to dozens or a few hundred, and there were no major reported incidents of violence.

Mr Saied's action followed months of deadlock and disputes pitting him against Mr Mechichi and a fragmented parliament, as Tunisia descended into an economic crisis exacerbated by a third wave of Covid-19.

As social media was awash with speculation and rumours about his fate following an emergency meeting chaired by the president and attended by senior military and security officers, Mr Mechichi told Reuters he was at home and not under house arrest.

Difficult year

In July last year, the president picked Mr Mechichi to become prime minister and form a new government.

Mr Mechichi, a 46-year-old lawyer, was not one of the names proposed by the ruling political parties, including the Islamist Ennahda, the largest in parliament.

As well as serving as interior minister in the past, Mr Mechichi handled legal matters for Mr Saied.

"I assumed the responsibility of heading the government a year ago, in the most difficult period, to face a deep economic and social crisis as a result of the failure of successive political elites in recent years to establish a system that responds to the aspirations of the people,” he said.

He noted the coronavirus pandemic has forced him and his government to take some painful choices between protecting the safety of people and keeping the already sluggish economy running.

The government has been under fire for its handling of the pandemic with Mr Mechichi sacking health minister Faouzi Mehdi last week after he organised a walk-in vaccine drive in Tunis during Eid only for centres to have very few vaccines to administer. Crowds heeded the call to get immunised, causing chaos at the centres.

Updated: July 27, 2021, 1:57 PM