Tunisian leader appoints new prime minister with little experience in times of crisis

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TUNIS, September 29 (Reuters) – The Tunisian president on Wednesday appointed a geologist with little government experience as prime minister amid a crisis over his seizure of sweeping powers and serious threats to public finances.

Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known geophysics professor who has implemented World Bank projects at the Ministry of Education, is Tunisia’s first female prime minister.

President Kais Saied has come under increasing domestic and international pressure to appoint a government after sacking the prime minister, suspending parliament and seizing executive power in July in moves his enemies call a coup.

Last week he suspended most of the constitution, claiming he could rule by decree for an “exceptional” period with no definite end, questioning democratic gains after the 2011 Tunisian revolution that sparked the Arab Spring .

Speaking in an online video, Saied said her appointment honored Tunisian women and asked her to nominate a cabinet in the coming hours or days “because we’ve wasted a lot of time.”

The new government must fight corruption and meet the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all areas, including health, transport and education, he added.

However, Bouden is likely to have less direct power than previous prime ministers under the 2014 constitution, after Saied said last week that during the emergency the government would be accountable to the president.

CRISIS

Much of the political elite, including most parties in the suspended parliament and the powerful UGTT union, have said they oppose Saied’s takeover and major Western donors have urged him to restore normal constitutional order.

Tunisia faces a looming public finance crisis after years of economic stagnation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and internal political struggles.

Government bonds are under pressure and the cost of insuring against their default has reached an all-time high, although bonds rose sharply on Wednesday after the announcement.

The new government will have to act very quickly to seek financial support for the budget and debt repayment after Saied’s takeover in July suspended talks with the International Monetary Fund.

“It is a positive sign that a woman will lead the government. I hope she will immediately start saving the country from the specter of bankruptcy. She should quickly address the problems of Tunisians,” Amin Ben Salem said. , banker in Tunis.

There was no immediate reaction from the union or political parties to Bouden’s appointment. However, major parties in parliament can challenge the legality of his appointment and that of any new government or policies it tries to implement without the consent of the suspended chamber.

A senior Tunisian politician told Reuters last week that the new prime minister would face an intimidating inbox as most of the government’s work has come to a standstill in the past two months and a wide range of files require attention. urgent attention.

Saied replaced many civil servants across the administration, but was committed to defending rights and freedoms. He said he would appoint a committee to amend the 2014 constitution.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean

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