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Friday, December 4, 2020

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Tunisia parliament holds confidence votes on new PM amid economic crisis

The Tunisian parliament is holding a confidence vote Tuesday on a new prime minister and his proposed government as the North African country faces deep economic crisis worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and after a conflict-of-interest scandal pushed out the previous officeholder.

If Prime Minister-designate Hichem Mechichi wins the confidence vote, his government would be the third Tunisia has seen since October and the ninth since the revolution that brought down Tunisia’s autocratic regime in 2011 and triggered Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Tunisia’s parliament voted down a previous prime minister-designate earlier this year after marathon debate. Lawmakers eventually approved a replacement candidate, Elyes Fakhfakh, but he stepped down as prime minister last month amid anger over his holdings in a waste processing company that won state contracts.

Mechichi, 46, is a former interior minister and lawyer who studied in Tunisia and France. He proposed a government with 25 ministers and three secretaries of state that includes seven women and a blind man.

Ahead of the vote, he said the new government would focus on “social and economic questions and respond to the urgent concerns of Tunisians.”

Tunisia’s economy was already struggling when the virus hit, hurting the country’s important tourism sector among others. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate grew from 15% to 18% in the first half of 2020, and gross domestic product shrank 21% in the second quarter.

After days of tense negotiations, Islamist movement Ennahdha, which has the largest parliamentary bloc, announced just hours before the scheduled confidence vote that it would vote in favor of the Mechichi government. Some other parties have also promised their support.

If the government is rejected, the president could dissolve parliament and call a new election.

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