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World News

Tunisian parliament to vote on new government

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s deeply fragmented parliament on Tuesday started debating whether to back a new government amid a tussle for influence between the president and major parties.

The parliament is expected to vote on Tuesday, with the two biggest parties having already indicated they plan to support Hichem Mechichi, who has proposed a technocratic cabinet without political affiliation.

“The government formation comes at a time political instability and the people’s patience has reached its limit,” Mechichi told parliament as the debate began.

“Our priority will be to address the economic and social situation... stop the bleeding of public finances, start talks with lenders and begin reform programmes, including for public companies and subsidies.”

If parliament rejects Mechichi’s government, it could prompt an early election. A narrow majority to back it could indicate that Mechichi would struggle to pass any of the significant reforms seen as necessary by foreign lenders.

Although it was President Kais Saied who proposed Mechichi as prime minister, Tunisian politicians say he has since dropped his support, underscoring the potential for tensions between the presidency and government.

Officials from three parties said Saied had asked them to vote against Mechichi’s government and to instead continue with a caretaker government.

Tunisia is the only Arab state that managed a peaceful transition to democracy after the “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept through the region in 2011.

But its economy has been crippled by high debt and deteriorating public services, made worse by the global coronavirus pandemic, and a year of political uncertainty has complicated efforts to address those problems.

Mechichi’s effort to form an administration is the third since October’s parliamentary election, after the cabinet rejected one proposed cabinet in January and a second government quit in July after less than five months in office.

While previous bouts of political discord in Tunisia have focused on the split between secularists and Islamists, or over economic reforms, the current tensions seem more rooted in the division of powers between president and parliament.

Saied, a political independent who won the presidency in a landslide last year, has said he wants to amend the political system.

Reporting by Angus McDowall and Tarek Amara

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