By Monia Ghanmi and Houda Trabelsi
Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced the composition of the new National Unity Government on Thursday (January 27th), saying it was the result of deep and intense consultations and a consensus among all national political parties.
“It is a positive step in the direction of building democratic institutions that derive their legitimacy from the people,” said Ahmed Salhi, a lawyer and human rights activist from Sidi Bouzid. He added that the new government responded to the calls of the people.
Nine cabinet members kept their portfolios, while twelve others were replaced, Ghannouchi said. He added that the task of his new government was to move the country towards democracy in order to build the country’s socio-economic foundations and complete political reform.
The move comes after weeks of protests against the continued presence of former members of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party.
Ghannouchi remains prime minister, while Interior Minister Ahmed Friaà, whose negative statements about the revolution received broad criticism, was sacked and replaced by Farhat Rajhi. At the defence ministry, Abd Karim Zbidi will succeed Ridha Grira.
Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane resigned earlier on Thursday, saying he wanted to promote national unity and support the interests of the country. He was replaced by independent Ahmed Ounaies.
Meanwhile, the health ministry will be led by Habiba Zahi, who replaced Mustapha Ben Jaàfar, Secretary-General of the Party of Democratic Alliance for Action and Freedoms.
The social affairs ministry will now be headed up Mohamed Naceur, succeeding Montassar Rouissi, while the finance ministry goes to Jalloul Ayad, who succeeded Ridha Chalghoum. Yassine Ibrahim is the new transport minister, taking the place of Salaheddine Malouch.
Additionally, Azzedine Bach Chaouch was named culture minister, succeeding Moufida Tlatli. Planning and Investment Minister Nouri Jouini and Industry Minister Afif Chalbi remained in their positions.
The new cabinet will begin work on several reforms, including new election laws, anti-terror legislation, and laws on political parties and press freedom, Ghannouchi said on national television.
He also pledged fair elections, organised by an independent commission and overseen by international observers. Ghannouchi also said that the government would allow all political parties to work freely, adding that the situation in Tunisia was very delicate.
“We have to sacrifice for the People’s Revolution”, the prime minster said, calling on the Tunisian people to supervise the government in implementing its tasks.
Opposition commends cabinet shakeup
The new cabinet was met with satisfaction and optimism by many parties, with some describing it as a non-partisan administration made up of technocrats.
Tunisia’s General Labour Union (UGTT) decided on Thursday to back the provisional government, TAP reported. The syndicate was formerly one of the largest groups opposing Ghannouchi’s transitional administration.
The new composition of the government is a positive turning point, which was reached through removing the symbols of the former regime who were known to have worked alongside with Ben Ali and his policies, said Mokhtar Trifi, President of the Tunisian League for the Protection of Human Rights. Speaking to Youth Radio, Trifi stressed the need for caution and prudence.
He pointed out that a large number of the new ministers are not well known and that their political affiliation remains unknown, calling vigilance to counter any attempt to revive the old practices.
The transitional government requires an element of pressure and vigilance due to the delicacy of the phase that the country is currently going through, said Samir Betaib, a member of the Renewal Movement.
Betaib also called for demonstrations to end.
“We cannot judge a government while it is still ink on paper and we still have not seen anything of its achievements. We must judge the responsible people for their actions, not their names,” economist Zouhair Hadhek said.
Hadhek called for the gradual return to the economic activity in parallel with the return of security and the elimination of chaos to facilitate the return of confidence and trust to investors, because in his view, investment is a key driver for the economic growth engines of the Tunisian country.
“The problem is not in people but in the policies,” lawyer and professor Abdel-Wahab Matar said.
Reporter Assma Bekouch said: “I think that the new government will succeed in calming the situation and stop the protests, because the General Union of Tunisian Workers were behind those protests and I think it responded to the aspirations of the Union after it declared its approval.”
“The new structure of government includes many names with proven competence and full independence from narrow political affiliations, which will qualify it to gain the confidence of the contributing sides,” journalist Khalil Hannachi told Magharebia.
Student Chamsedinne Trabelsi said, “I’m proud that my people could destabilise the symbols of the corrupt regime. It’s time to return to study and reconstruct what was destroyed in order to save the Tunisian economy.”