Tunisia’s youth seek role in forming new government

After parliament recently rejected Tunisia’s first effort at forming a new government since the September election, the president has apparently responded to young people's demand to have a political voice.

al-monitor Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh (front), tasked with forming a government, leaves his office, Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 21, 2019. Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images.

Jan 30, 2020

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisian President Kais Saied has tasked Elyes Fakhfakh, a former minister of both tourism and finance, with forming the country’s next government. Saied's nomination of Fakhfakh for prime minister seems to be a response to the calls of young Tunisians. 

This came after the Tunisian parliament rejected Jan. 10 a government proposed by Habib Jemli, who had been nominated for this task by the Islamist Ennahda party. Jemli’s proposed government did not get the required votes of confidence, set at 109 in the 217-seat parliament, which gave Saied the opportunity to designate Fakhfakh.

Fakhfakh, an engineer by training, seems an appealing candidate for the Tunisian young people, who launched a campaign calling on politicians to allow the country’s youth to choose the prime minister and Cabinet members.

The campaign “Yezziyom” — "Yezzi" meaning “Enough” in colloquial Tunisian Arabic — has gathered more than 6,000 followers since it was launched on social media Jan. 14.

After Fakhfakh was chosen Jan. 20, the campaign published a statement to the Tunisian public on its Facebook page, saying young people seek to discuss their ideas about the new government's composition and want to include the largest number of young people possible.

On Jan. 16, the campaign's organizers had submitted to the president a list of five people they consider capable of leading the country. In addition to Fakhfakh, who was born in 1972, the list included Shaimaa Buhilal, 29, president of Al-Bawsala Association; former Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy Manji Marzouq, 59; Farah Hashad, 45, a member of the UNESCO Executive Council; and Shiraz al-Talili, 45, a Court of Auditors judge.

The movement said it is seeking candidates who are “clean” and have never been involved in corruption cases to head the government and be members of the Cabinet.

Mamdouh Ezzdine, a Tunisian researcher in political sociology at the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies - Masarat, told Al-Monitor that youth movements are important and have great influence on political life. He noted that young people and the power of social media helped launch the Tunisian revolution that ousted longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Ezzdine said that the revolutionary spirit lives on among the country's youth, who are greatly affected by soaring unemployment rates. During the third quarter of 2019, unemployment reached 15.1%, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

“Tunisian young people are no longer turning to traditional politics via traditional political parties … to voice their demands, but to social media, where they are demanding actual participation in the country’s political course,” he added.

If elected, Fakhfakh would be the second-youngest prime minister in the history of Tunisia, following the current caretaker prime minister, Youssef Chahed, who is 45. 

Fakhfakh is a member of the center-left Ettakatol party, which is not represented in parliament. He also ran in the presidential election of Sept. 15, 2019, but did not get more than 11,000 votes out of about 3.4 million voters.

Sadok Mtimit, political science professor at the University of Tunis El Manar, told Al-Monitor the emergence of such youth movements indicates the dwindling influence of the traditional political parties that failed to live up to the young people’s aspirations and demands. He believes those parties are no longer able to add anything new to the political arena.

Murad Farah, head of the regional branch of the Global Young Leaders Organization in Kasserine, told Al-Monitor, “The president responded to the demands of the youth by tasking Fakhfakh." He added that young people contributed to Saied’s rise to power and that Saied will have an active role in leading the country through the post-revolution transitional period and will support the nascent democratic experience in Tunisia.

Fakhfakh, in his bid to assemble a coalition government, has the support of the Democratic Current, which has 22 seats in parliament, and Long Live Tunisia, with 14 seats. 

He is opposed by the powerful Ennahda party, which has 54 seats, and Ennahda's rival Heart of Tunisia Party, with 38 seats. Both those parties believe Fakhfkah’s government will not win a parliamentary vote of confidence.

As per the Tunisian Constitution, the designated prime minister will have 30 days to form a government and win the confidence vote. If the government fails to secure the simple majority in parliament, Saied would be forced to dissolve it and go for fresh elections.

Ghazi al-Shawashy of the Democratic Current told Al-Monitor the youth campaign is effective and considers Fakhfakh the right person for the job. Shawashy said his party will take into account the demands of the youth and support Fakhfakh in forming the government.

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