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.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”