Habib Jemli, the Prime Minister-designate nominated by the Ennahdha Movement, has failed to win Parliament’s confidence for his proposed government, which he presented on January 10, 2020. This serious setback will have an impact on the political map and on the position of the Ennahdha Movement, which stands isolated within Tunisian politics.
This paper will analyze the reasons behind the rejection and will look at potential scenarios for Tunisian politics in the near future.
Jemli’s government: Why was it rejected?
Although the Tunisian Constitution stipulates that the party that comes first in the parliamentary elections is entitled to form the government, the Ennahdha Movement chose an independent figure — albeit one close to the Movement — as prime minister. This was one of the key conditions for winning the support of the other political parties. As the Ennahdha Movement holds only 52 seats in Parliament, it was forced to form alliances with other political powers. Its preference was to ally itself with liberal and left-wing parties belonging to the “revolutionary wing” of Tunisian politics, rather than the constitutional wing and the Qalb Tounes party.
The Movement’s first attempt to form a coalition government with parties from the “revolutionary wing” failed, however, despite the efforts of Prime Minister-designate Habib Jemli to bring the parties together and to fulfil demands regarding who should hold certain key ministerial positions. It appeared, at first, that Jemli had managed to achieve rapprochement between the Ennahdha Movement and three main parliamentary blocs, namely the Democratic Current, the People’s Movement, and the Tahya Tounes party, which would have given his coalition government a comfortable parliamentary majority. His attempt failed, however, and the three blocs have distanced themselves from the declared consensus.
There are two main reasons for this failure: the Ennahdha Movement tried to retain a position of influence within the government by appointing its members to several sensitive ministerial positions requested by other parties; and Jemli failed to reconcile the various conflicting demands made by the parties with which he was trying to form a government.
As the deadline for forming the government was approaching, Jemli proposed a government of national, independent, non-partisan figures and tried to gain Parliament’s approval. He argued that it was the only possible option, given the divided nature of the political scene and the difficulty of achieving consensus between the political groups. However, his proposed government, which was presented to Parliament on January 10, won only 72 votes, primarily from among the members of the Ennahdha Movement and the Karama coalition. The number of votes against the proposal was 132, representing the majority of the parties, including Qalb Tounes, Tahya Tounes, the People’s Movement, the Democratic Current, the Free Constitutional Party, and the Reform Front. Three members abstained. The proposed coalition government was therefore rejected.
The proposed independent government was rejected for two main reasons: several of the proposed government members are political Islamists, meaning that they are close to the Ennahdha Movement; and several others are known to be involved in corruption, meaning that they are unqualified to carry out the necessary fundamental reforms.
The failure to win parliamentary support for the proposed government is a serious blow to the Ennahdha Movement, which, having been a major player in all areas of Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution, failed to form the alliances required to establish a coalition government.
According to article 89 of the Tunisian Constitution, the President shall, within 10 days, hold talks with the parliamentary blocs to appoint a person deemed capable of forming a government that has the confidence of the House of Representatives. The government must then be formed within a month. This deadline may be extended only once. If this period lapses without the formation of the government, new legislative elections may be held within a minimum of 45 days and a maximum of 90 days.
President Kais Saied wrote to the heads of the parliamentary blocs and groups inviting them to participate in such consultations in order to discuss candidates deemed capable of forming the government. Although it is too early to make any clear predictions, there are four possible scenarios for the formation of the future government:
The struggle to form the government appears to provide a platform for both strengthening and undermining relationships between the political forces in Tunisia. The formation of a government under a presidential system seems ever more likely, which suggests that the first scenario may eventually come to pass. Given the legal differences between a presidential system and a parliamentary system and given the political congestion in the country, debate continues to rage regarding the future of the next government, its composition, and the legal and political pillars on which it should be based.
President Saied chose to launch consultations to appoint the prime minister in accordance with article 89 of the Constitution, which permits the President to hold consultations with parties, coalitions, and parliamentary blocs with the aim of appointing the “most capable” person as prime minister within ten days. According to the Constitution, the prime minister is then tasked with forming a government within the space of a month. However, some experts in constitutional law argue that, during such consultations, it is not possible for the President of the Republic to “simply choose a person and force the parties to accept that choice. Rather, the President must take various factors into account and must intensify consultations in order to win the confidence of the House of Representatives.” In the same context, those experts argue that the Tunisian Constitution “has been silenced in cases where the government was not formed by the deadline and did not receive the confidence of the House of Representatives. In those cases, the Constitution was taken into account only with regard to the President’s right to dissolve Parliament four months after it was established, in the event that Parliament has not granted its confidence to the government. This is not a mechanism, nor is the President obliged to dissolve Parliament. The President is therefore able to interpret the Constitution as he desires and assign another person as prime minister. Youssef Chahed will continue to run the current government until a new government is formed.”
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