Tunisia's President Kais Saied has appointed the country's first female prime minister, a 63-year-old professor Najla Bouden Ramadhane, who will lead a transitional government after the head of state sacked the previous prime minister and suspended parliament.
Najla Bouden Romdhane is a little-known professor of geophysics who implemented World Bank projects at the education ministry.
President Saied named Professor Bouden to the post in a surprise decision and instructed her to create a new cabinet as soon as possible, according to a statement from the President's office.
President Saied has been under mounting domestic and international pressure to name a government after he on July 25 sacked the government of Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament, lifted MPs' immunity and took over the judiciary.
Last week, he suspended most of the constitution, saying he could rule by decree during an “exceptional” period with no set ending, calling into question democratic gains after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab spring, Reuters has reported.
Speaking in an online video, Saied said her appointment honored Tunisian women and asked her to propose a cabinet in the coming hours or days “because we have lost a lot of time.”
The new government should confront corruption and respond to the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all fields, including health, transport and education, he added.
However, Bouden is likely to have less direct power than previous prime ministers under the 2014 constitution after Saied said last week that during the emergency period the government would be responsible to the president.
The president, who will head the cabinet, repeatedly emphasised the "historic" nature of the nomination of a woman, calling it "an honour for Tunisia and a homage to Tunisian women".
Saied, who was the only person to speak in the video, said Bouden's main mission would be to "put an end to the corruption and chaos that have spread throughout many state institutions".
The move notably sidelined the Islamist party that dominated parliament, Ennahdha, and critics denounced the president’s moves as a coup that threatens Tunisia’s young democracy.
Saied said he acted to save the country amid unrest over financial troubles and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Saied issued presidential decrees bolstering his already near-total power and announced plans for a transitional government and new electoral rules.
The decrees include the continuing suspension of parliament’s powers, the suspension of lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution and a freeze on lawmakers’ salaries.
The decrees also stated Saied’s intention to not send laws for parliamentary approval and to presidential decree alone, ignoring parts of the Tunisian Constitution.
His moves have raised concern among Islamists and pro-democracy forces in and beyond the Arab world.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was the only country to emerge from the tumultuous period with a newly designed democratic political system.
More than 100 Ennahdha officials announced their resignations on Saturday to protest the choices of the party’s leadership in confronting the North African country’s political crisis.
Lawmaker Samir Dilou, a former government minister who resigned from Ennahdha, called Bouden’s appointment “illegal” because it was based on Saied’s presidential decrees.
In a message published on his Facebook page, Dilou said the new Cabinet would face “great challenges given the huge difficulties the country’s finance and economy are going through and its fragile sanitary situation” during the pandemic.
He wondered how the prime minister would be able to run the country “without having obtained the confidence of any parliamentary body.(With inputs from agencies)