Tunisia’s parliament on Saturday passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Habib Essid, effectively disbanding the government of the US-trained agricultural economist.
The no-confidence motion was passed by 118 votes, easily crossing the country’s 109-vote threshold after a debate that stretched late into the night. Although the result was expected — Essid had faced criticism from across Tunisia’s political spectrum — the vote was a mark of the instability which has bedeviled the North African country since it began a wave of pro-democracy rebellions across the Arab world in 2011.
Tunisian President of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People Mohamed Ennaceur told lawmakers that Tunisia was “living through a difficult situation that demands sacrifices from all” and added that “we must now look to the future to return hope to all Tunisians.”
Unlike countries such as Egypt, Yemen Syria and Libya — whose revolts have degenerated into coups or anarchic civil conflicts — Tunisia has maintained its parliamentary democracy in the face of Muslim militant attacks, inflation and stubbornly high unemployment rates.
However, the difficulties have steadily sapped the authority of Essid, whose position has also been undermined by political maneuvering within Tunisia’s secular Nida Tounis Party and pressure from Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who called for a new national unity government last month.
Essid said that he would do his best to make sure the transition to the new government was a tranquil one. Despite fierce criticism of his government during an extraordinary parliamentary session, he said that the debate “consecrated Tunisia’s nascent democracy.”
“Despite the serious problems our country faces, we have no fear for Tunisia which has the resources to face up to the challenges,” he said, before being given a standing ovation by the lawmakers who had ousted him.
Constitutional law expert Nawfel Saied said that the no confidence vote, although unprecedented in the country’s short history with democracy, was actually a positive point, adding that similar mechanisms exist in other parliamentary democracies.
He said the move could result in a more prominent role for the more religiously oriented Ennahda Party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament following defections and splits within Nida Tounis.
That is because Essebsi now has a month to pick a new prime minister, who in turn has a month to appoint a cabinet which has to be presented to parliament.
The president “will have a central role to play in this delicate political operation, which needs the support of various political parties, especially the Islamist Ennahda party,” he said.
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