Tunisia’s new president has a big job in first 100 days


On Oct. 23, former law professor Kais Saied, 61, was sworn in as Tunisia’s 7th president after defeating his contender, businessman Nabil Karoui, in a presidential runoff.

During his first 100 days in power, Saied, a political outsider, is facing both domestic and regional challenges as the country prepares to mark the 8th anniversary of a popular revolution that ousted autocrat President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

The first challenge facing the newly-elected president is the formation of a government.

The moderate Ennahda party has been tasked with forming the new government after winning most seats in the Oct. 6 parliamentary election.

Ennahda, which won 52 seats in the 217-member parliament, must forge alliances to secure the 109 seats needed to form a governing coalition.

However, rounds of tough negotiations have so far resulted only in an agreement with al-Karama (Dignity) coalition (21 seats).

If Ennahda, whose leader Rachid Ghannouchi was elected parliament speaker, fails to reach agreements with other parties on the government formation within two months, Saied will have to consult other political parties to form a government within a month.

If this initiative fails, Saied will constitutionally dissolve the parliament and calls for legislative election.

Giving the fragility of Tunisia’s democratic transition, the last scenario seems to be least favorable.

“In order to avoid a political deadlock, Saied will have to bridge the differences in views between political parties,” Mohsen Mejdi, a political analyst and researcher at Ez-zitouna University, told Anadolu Agency.

“He will capitalize on his constitutional symbolic capital as the ‘guarantor of national unity’ and the mass popular support to push political parties towards a consensus on the formation of the government,” he said.

Urgent appointments

Filling vacant ministerial posts and establishing the Constitutional Court are also urgent matters on the Tunisian president’s desk.

“Saied, after consulting with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, dismissed Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi and Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui because they were both appointed based on their personal loyalty to his predecessor Beji Caid Essebsi” Habib Haj Salem, a political analyst, said.

“Now, there is the issue of appointing the new defense and foreign ministers. Saied will have a say in the appointments but the final decision has to do also with the new government and its head,” he said.

Another challenge facing the new Tunisian president in his first 100 days in power is the election of members of the Constitutional Court.

Since 2014, the parliament has failed to appoint four members of the 12-member judicial body.

The president, parliament and the Supreme Judicial Council should each appoint four members.

During his electoral campaign, Saied told local media that he would prioritize the election of members of the Constitutional Court if elected president.

Foreign policy

Analysts opine that the foremost challenge facing democratically elected president will be meeting the aspirations of the Tunisian voters.

“Saied’s biggest challenge will be meeting the aspirations of his supporters,” Haj Salem said.

“A large part of Saied’s voters expects him to act as an effective president within a presidential system, but the reality is otherwise.”

Tunisia has a modified parliamentary system, which does not give the president much power.

In his inaugural speech, Saied affirmed Tunisia’s commitment to international treaties.

He also underlined the importance of the Maghreb, Africa, the Arab world, and the northern bank of the Mediterranean as common natural spaces for Tunisia.

In the last few weeks, Saied started to translate his foreign policy strategies by sending Prime Minister Youssef Chahed for official visits to Algeria, France, and Italy to convey messages from him to his counterparts.

“In his first 100 days in power, Saied must revive and strengthen Maghrebi relations starting by Algeria. He will have to develop the relations from a mere friendship between two peoples to a solid political alliance,” Mejdi opined.

Despite his clear support and firm stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue, little is known about Saied’s position regarding the Qatari-Saudi conflict and the cleavages in the Gulf.

When asked about the issue, Saied told local media that Tunisia will not enter any alliances. “We had enough with those alliances that destroyed the region,” he said.

During televised presidential debates, Saied also talked about the importance of reviving the role of the Arab Maghreb Union and the Arab League, yet without detailing the initial strategies or mechanisms needed to do so.
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