Tunisia's Ennahda names Habib Jemli as choice for PM

Habib Jemli, 60, a former junior agriculture minister in a previous Ennahda-led government, will now have two months to try to form a governing coalition. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Tunisia's Ennahda names Habib Jemli as choice for PM

  • Jemli, 60, an agricultural engineer, served as a junior minister in the first post-revolutionary government formed in late 2011, which was also led by Ennahda
  • Jemli has two months to build a governing coalition from a fractured parliament

TUNIS: Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda, which came first in last month's parliamentary elections, has named Habib Jemli, a former junior agriculture minister, as its choice to become prime minister, party spokesman Imed Khemiri said on Friday.
President Kais Saied is expected to officially ask him to form a new government later on Friday.
Jemli has two months to build a governing coalition from a fractured parliament in which Ennahda, the largest party, holds only a quarter of the seats.
On Wednesday, its election foe Heart of Tunisia supported Ennahda's veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi as parliament speaker, a sign the two might put aside their earlier hostility and join together in coalition.
Any new government that Jemli is able to muster would need the support of at least one other party to command even the slender parliamentary majority of 109 seats needed to pass legislation.
Jemli, 60, an agricultural engineer, served as a junior minister in the first post-revolutionary government formed in late 2011, which was also led by Ennahda.
Analysts say the new government will need clear political will and strong backing in parliament to push through economic reforms started by the outgoing prime minister, Youssef Chahed, who is acting as caretaker during coalition talks.
His cabinet has focused on spending cuts backed by the International Monetary Fund to bring Tunisia's hefty deficit and public debt under control while raising spending on security to woo back tourists.
Economic woes - unemployment of 15% nationally and 30% in some cities, inflation of nearly 7% and a weak dinar - have plagued Tunisia since its 2011 revolution ended autocratic rule, introduced democracy and sparked the "Arab Spring".
Those problems, alongside deteriorating public services and a public perception of widespread government corruption, drove voters to reject the political establishment in this autumn's elections.
That public anger may make it harder for a new prime minister to continue to cut spending, and he will be buffeted by the same competing demands to control the deficit while improving services.
President Saied, an independent retired law professor, has already pushed anti-corruption proposals since his inauguration, a programme that diplomats have said could win enough public support to buy time for new economic reforms.
Heart of Tunisia, which came second in the parliamentary election, is headed by media mogul Nabil Karoui who was detained for much of the election period on corruption charges, which he denies.
Ennahda, whose own candidate lost to Saied and Karoui in the first round of a separate presidential election, had sworn not to enter into coalition with his Heart of Tunisia party, painting it as part of a corrupt elite.


Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

Updated 7 min 12 sec ago

Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

  • Renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March

BEIRUT: Syrian opposition groups lobbed hundreds of missiles and artillery rockets at government posts in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, in retaliation for a deadly attack that killed dozens of their fighters a day earlier.
The renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March that aimed to quell military operations and government troop advances in the overcrowded rebel enclave.
The Turkey-backed groups, operating under the umbrella of the National Front for Liberation, fired hundreds of artillery rounds and missiles since late Monday at government posts in territories adjacent to areas they control in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
A spokesman for the NFL, Naji Al-Mustafa, said the rebel’s military retaliation targeted and killed Russian officers in southern Idlib, as well as Syrian soldiers working in the area.
The report could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from Russia or Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded hundreds of projectiles lobbed by opposition fighters at nearly 20 government posts in different locations in southern Idlib, western Aleppo and the coastal province of Latakia. The Observatory said there were casualties but had no details.
Monday’s strike was the deadliest in Idlib since the Turkish-Russian-brokered truce there came into effect in March, raising fears that the truce could further fray. Some 1 million people were displaced by the last offensive inside the already packed enclave, home to over 3 million.
The airstrike on a rebel training camp near the border with Turkey killed more than 50 Turkish-backed fighters, according to one opposition spokesman, and wounded nearly as many, in one of the heaviest blows to the opposition’s strongest groups. The Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, put the toll at 78 fighters dead and nearly 90 wounded.
The camp, operated by Faylaq Al-Sham, an NFL faction, was hosting training sessions for new recruits. The NFL said a “large number” of fighters were killed, but declined to give details. It vowed retaliation and blamed Russia for the attack.
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey said the escalation in Idlib in violation of the March cease-fire deal is “dangerous” and threatens to prolong the conflict and deepen the Syrian people’s suffering. Jeffrey said the UN-led political process is the only way to peace and stability in Syria.
“By continuing their quest for a military victory, the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are threatening the stability of the surrounding region,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It is time for the Assad regime and its allies to end their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people.”
Russia and Turkey, although they support opposite sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, have worked together to maintain a cease-fire in the last enclave of Syria’s rebels. But the attack comes as relations between the two countries have shown signs of strain over Turkey’s increased military involvement in a region stretching from Syria to the Caucasus and the Mediterranean.