Tunisia Forms New Government
By admin February 11, 2015

The Tunisian legislature has approved a unity government on Wednesday, February 4th, 2015. Out of 217 delegates, 166 voted in favor of the government, with 30 voting against and 8 abstaining. Under the new government, the cabinet will be composed of ministers from both the secularist Nidaa Tounis (“Call for Tunisia”) and the islamist Ennahda (“Revival”) party, the two largest political factions in the country. Six ministers and three deputy ministers will be selected by Nidaa Tounis, while one minister (the Minister of Employment) and three deputy ministers will be selected by Ennahda. The Prime Minister will be Habib Essid, of the Nidaa Tounis party.

Previously, Prime Minister Essid had intended to form a cabinet composed of ministers from Nidaa Tounis and the smaller Free Patriotic Union party. This attempt was abandoned after Ennahda vowed to vote against the new government, which would have left it without the requisite number of supporting votes in parliament, unless it was also included. The main opposition to the current government, in turn, has come from the left-wing Popular Front and Congress for the Republic parties, which opposed the presence of Ennahda as well as former members of the pre-revolutionary Ben Ali government (in which Prime Minister Essid himself had served).

Among the issues faced by the new government are Tunisia’s high unemployment (affecting around 15% of the population according to 2014 statistics); jihadi networks who have carried out attacks throughout the nation since the 2011 revolution; development issues in Tunisian provinces which have long complained of being ignored or excluded by the central government in Tunis; and other economic issues such as the cost of living and government spending.

Prime Minister Essid said on Wednesday that his government’s top priority would be “providing security and the battle against terrorism,” to which end he called on parliament to “expedite the passage of an anti-terrorist law” which has been under discussion for months. With regard to economic problems, he also spoke of the need for “economic reforms including rationalization of subsidies, review of the tax system, reform of the banking sector and cutting public spending,” and vowed to realize the revolution’s goals of “dignity, employment, health and regional equality.”

The formation of this government is the latest step in a process that began four years ago when the Tunisian Revolution (the first of the revolutions colloquially known as the “Arab Spring” that began in 2010) removed President Ben Ali from power, and was followed by the revolutionaries’ attempts to build a new government. In 2011, an election was held to create a Constituent Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution, which the Ennahda Party won with a plurality of 37%. The new constitution was finally adopted in January of 2014. In October of the same year, legislative elections were held, which the Nidaa Tounis party won with a plurality of 38%. The debate over the composition of the new cabinet had continued since then, until now.

Tunisia is notable for having undergone the least tumultuous transition of power out of any of the nations that experienced the “Arab Spring.” Among the others, Syria and to a lesser extent Libya are still mired in civil war; Bahrain’s uprising was put down by its government, with help from Saudi troops. Egypt was faster than Tunisia in transitioning to a new constitution and electing a new government, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi won the majority of the votes. However, Morsi’s government was removed in 2013 by Egyptian Army chief of staff General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has held the presidency ever since. This leaves Tunisia the only nation to have successfully completed an Arab Spring revolution, without either seeing the revolt put down or the subsequent transition to a new government derailed.   EU and other international observers have hailed the 2011 and 2014 elections as “free” and democratic, with several Western heads of state and UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon praising Tunisia as an “example” for the region.

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