Tunisian Prime Minister's resignation plunges country into serious crisis

Elyes Fakhfakh leaves office after weeks of controversy over his alleged involvement in corruption
Tunisian Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh announces his cabinet at the Carthage Palace in Tunis on 19 February

AFP / HO / PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE  -   Tunisian Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh announces his cabinet at the Carthage Palace in Tunis on 19 February

Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh today resigned after several weeks of controversy over his alleged involvement in corruption, plunging the country into a serious political crisis on top of the economic and social crisis that Tunisia has been suffering for months. According to the local radio station "Mosaïque FM", the head of the executive has resigned after a meeting at the Carthage palace with the President of the Republic, Kais Said, the President of Parliament and government partner, Rachid Ghannouchi and the Secretary General of the UGTT, the country's main trade union and important political mediator, Noureddine Tabboubi.

According to the constitution, the president now has one week to appoint a replacement, who must gain the support of an absolute majority in parliament within a month and elect a new government, as the current one remains in office. If he fails to do so, the Magna Carta provides that the deadline can be extended by a further 30 days before the elections, held last October, are due to be repeated.

Islamist pressure

The resignation came just hours after the Islamist-leaning conservative Ennahda party, the leading force in the 54-seat Assembly and a partner in the government, where it has six ministers, began proceedings to file a motion of censure against Fakhfakh.

The formation deposited a proposal with 105 signatures, only four of the 109 supports needed to be accepted by the Assembly. Among the signatories, the deputies of Ennhada and those of the other two majority parties, the "Qalb Tunis" formation, led by controversial media magnate Nabil Karaoui, who is also being prosecuted for corruption, and the Salafist-supporting Al Karama platform. None of them is part of the weak government coalition, although Ennahda always wanted to join "Qalb Tunis", a wish that was always met with a resounding refusal by Fakhfakh.

Conflict of interests

The Prime Minister's situation began to become more complicated weeks ago when the National Institute for the Fight against Corruption (INLUCC) found him guilty of an alleged "conflict of interest" offence for failing to declare that he owned shares in private companies that had contracted with the administration.

Fakhfakh, who denies the charges, on Tuesday countered attacks by his conservative partner with the announcement of a cabinet reshuffle after a meeting with Said, who has played an odd role in denying, among other things, that there were any moves to overthrow the government. Local experts then suggested the possibility that Fakhfakh might choose to expel Ennahda's six ministers from the cabinet in an attempt to survive politically, which has now vanished.

Pressure on Islamists

The pressure on the prime minister has coincided with manoeuvres by some of the government partners against Ghannouchi himself, who also has problems within his own party. While the Shura Council, Ennahda's highest body, authorized him on Monday to submit the motion of censure, a group of 75 legislators announced that they would do the same against the Islamist leader and Speaker of the House for an alleged violation of the Assembly's code.

Ghannouchi and Ennahda are also under pressure from Abir Moussi, leader of the Free Destiny Party (FDP), formed by those nostalgic for the former dictatorial regime, which has accused the formation both of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood network and of having falsified the party's legalisation acts, which were clandestine until the 2011 revolution that ended the tyranny of Zinedin el Abedin Ben Ali. In this context, the future candidate for prime minister seems to have a difficult task, as Fakhfakh did, to achieve a majority in a highly fragmented parliament, with nearly twenty parties and numerous independents with their own agendas.