By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s ruling party Nidaa Tounes said on Tuesday the prime minister should be replaced in a new unity government proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi as a way to overcome political inertia and speed up economic reforms.
Essebsi, who was one of the founders of Nidaa Tounes, called last week for negotiations among political parties, unions and independents to form a new government to help advance economic restructuring that has lagged behind political liberalization.
Tunisia’s politics are often dominated by back-and-forth consensus-building among its parties since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. This has improved stability, but also impeded a process of economic overhaul demanding by international supporters like the IMF.
Prime Minister Habib Essid, a technocrat, has struggled to push through any major reforms, like a rise in the pension age, and his term has been marked recently by political infighting inside Nidaa Tounes and among members of the ruling coalition.
Nidaa Tounes’s call for a new premier came after two days of negotiations by the four ruling parties. Nidaa Tounes shares power with Islamist party Ennahda and two smaller parties.
“The country needs a unity government in as short a time as possible because the situation does not allow for any more delays and the unity government should be led by a new person,” Nidaa Tounes said in statement.
The powerful UGTT union, a joint winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has already rejected a call from Essebsi to join the unity government, because the labor movement is opposed to some of the government’s austerity plans.
Political infighting almost blocked a central bank reform earlier this year, forcing parties to negotiate to pass a banking law a month later. But pension reforms and other cost-cutting measures have already met resistance from labor groups.
Any new government would need the current cabinet to resign and approval from parliament. But it would also take time to reach agreement among secular, Islamist and left-wing parties and the powerful UGTT.
Essid declined to announce any position after a meeting with the president on Monday. But Ennahda also called on Monday for the premier to step aside.
“Habib Essid should resign in this current political context,” Lotfi Zitoun, a senior Ennahda official, said.
Essebsi plans more meetings on Wednesday with Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes to discuss the new government.
Essebsi’s call for a more agile government came with the current coalition is struggling to create more growth and jobs after a series of Islamist militant attacks that battered the North African state’s tourism industry and wider economy.
With its compromise between secular and Islamist parties, Tunisia has emerged as a model for democratic change in the Arab world. But economic reforms to tackle high unemployment and frustration among its young have been slow in arriving.
(Editing by Patrick Markey/Mark Heinrich)