A meeting of representatives from the four parties of the ruling coalition concluded early Friday morning with a statement by Abdelaziz Kotti that the coalition was withdrawing its support for the government of Prime Minister Habib Essid and called for Essid to resign. The move is an attempt to move President Essebsi proposal for a new ‘government of national unity’ forward and avoid having to seek a vote of no confidence in the Essid government from the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP).
Abdelaziz Kotti of Nidaa Tounes told MosaiqueFM after the announcement that the coalition was withdrawing its support for Essid that representatives of the coalition were ‘surprised’ a statement made earlier by the Prime Minister’s spokesman, Khaled Chouket, that Essid did not intend to resign as his mandate required him to complete the process of democracy building and oversee Municipal Elections scheduled for March 2017. Chouket added that the were ‘Constitutional mechanisms’ for removing a Prime Minister.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi announced on June 2, that there were “concrete plans” for the formation government of national unity on the “basis of a broad national consensus about the priorities of Tunisia” comprised of the current government coalition (Essebsi’s own Nidaa Tounes, Ennahda, Afek Tounes and the UPL.) and “perhaps” bringing in opposition parties.
Essebsi had also stated that “necessarily” the proposed government must include Tunisia’s two largest business and labor unions, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), but both unions have subsequently expressed a refusal to take on a formal role in government although they have participated in negotiations.
There had been speculation that Prime Minister Essid would tender his resignation immediately, but after a weekly meeting the Monday following Essebsi’s announcement, Essid remained in office and a generic press release from the office of the Presidency said only that the two had ‘discussed the general situation in the country’ as well as ‘the formation of a national unity government and means to bring about all the conditions for its success.’ Since then talks on the ‘government of national unity’ have been slow and opaque. Since then Essid and Essebsi met again this Monday resulting in an identical statement.
However, short of Essid’s resignation or removal from office the President has no authority to form a new government, any reshuffle falls under Essid’s authority and contingent only upon ARP approval. As occurred in January when Essid, appointed in February 2015 as the first government approved under the 2014 Constitution , successfully obtained approval for a major reshuffle, also a constitutional first, from the ARP this January.
A new government in which President Essebsi has a formal role in the selection process requires Essid leaving office, and even then Essebsi only has the constitutional authority to name a Prime Minister who would then select his own cabinet. Essebsi seems intent on choosing both the cabinet and the Prime Minister.
President Essebsi has held two meetings with the UGTT, UTICA, coalition member parties and several other small parties, the meetings have not included Essid.
Although Essebsi described the results to date of the Essid government as “acceptable” and “average” was “blamed for not having informed the people right from the beginning about the reality of the situation in the country, especially at the economic level and financial difficulties.” Essebsi also claimed it was possible the new government could see Essid reappointed at the head of the new government. One of the major impediments the Essid government has faced is ironically due to the very reason he was selected as Prime Minister in the first place, his lack of party affiliation. This has left the technocratic Essid without any natural political allies and has contributed to his lack of authority to insert himself into political stalemates on reforms.
Nidaa Tounes, founded by Beji Caid Essebsi and led by his son Hafedh, called for Essid to resign last week and was joined by senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun; but prior to yesterday’s announcement from the coalition Ennahda’s President Rached Ghannouchi and the leadership of fellow coalition parties the UPL and Afek Tounes had indicated they would not have opposed a new government in which Essid was renamed Prime Minister.
Nidaa Tounes has called for the next Prime Minister to be selected from within its ranks, however since Essid’s appointment a feud within Nidaa Tounes over the ascension of the President’s son Hafedh to party leadership caused a split in the party which resulted in the resignations of over two dozen ARP deputies. Those deputies formed a parliamentary bloc of their own, Al-Horra (associated with the Machrou Tounes party) and is not in the current coalition.
This has left Ennahda as the largest voting bloc in the ARP, Ennahda accepted a small share of cabinet appointments under the ‘neutrality’ of an Essid led government, but recently Ennahda has stated that their “electoral weight” must be taken into account in any new government lineup.
If Essid resigns, it seems President Essebsi will have to pay a price in appointments to maintain the current coalition. However if Essid refuses to offer his resignation and the President will have to request a vote of no confidence in the ARP.
The removal of the Prime Minister through a vote of no confidence requires an absolute majority or 109 deputies in the 217 seat ARP.
Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia | Article 99
The President of the Republic may ask the Assembly of the Representatives of the People to conduct a vote of confidence in the government on a maximum of two occasions during the entire presidential term. Confidence is voted by the absolute majority of members of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People.
In the case of non-renewal of confidence, the government is considered to have resigned. In this case the President of the Republic asks the person deemed most capable to form a government in a period not exceeding thirty days in conformity with the first, fifth, and sixth paragraphs of Article 89.
If the period expires without the formation of the government, or if the government does not obtain the confidence of the Assembly, the President of the Republic may dissolve the Assembly of the Representatives of the People and organize early legislative elections after a minimum of forty five days and a maximum of ninety days.
If the Assembly renews its confidence in the government on the two occasions, the President of the Republic will be considered to have resigned.
If Essid voluntarily resigns Article 98 states President Essebsi ‘shall assign the person who is most capable to form the government in accordance with the provisions’, apparently Essebsi thinks that person is….Essebsi.