Tunis, Tunisia – Najla Bouden, a geologist-turned-politician, has been named as Tunisia’s first ever woman prime minister-designate, to form a government with limited executive clout after President Kais Saied seized wide-ranging powers two months ago.
The university lecturer from the city of Kairouan, a political unknown, will take office after Kais Saied on July 25 sacked the government of Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament, lifted MPs’ immunity and took over the judiciary.
The President’s decision to name her PM followed months of political deadlock in the face of a pressing economic crisis and mounting coronavirus deaths.
While some Tunisians have supported his decisions against a reviled political class, he has faced repeated calls to name a government.
Last week he extended the suspension of parliament and moved to rule by decree, suspending parts of the country’s post-revolution constitution.
Saied’s office on Wednesday published a video of him meeting Bouden in his office and charging her with presenting a cabinet “in the coming hours or days”.
He 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”.
Political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi welcomed the nomination of a female premier but warned that Tunisia faces daunting economic and political challenges.
“When we look at the CV of this lady, who is a geologist without other specialisations or experience in sensitive roles, I don’t know how well she will be able to tackle these enormous, complex issues,” he told AFP.
Saied “has avoided nominating a politician or anyone with a minimum of political experience. He doesn’t want a rival or anyone with political opinions who could enter discussions with him over the important decisions to come,” he added.
Bouden will be Tunisia’s tenth prime minister since a 2011 uprising overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sparking the Arab Spring revolts.
The country has won international plaudits for its democratic transition but many Tunisians have seen little improvement in their lives and have become disillusioned with a political process they say is dysfunctional and corrupt.
Saied’s moves placed vast executive powers in the hands of the president, who will himself head the cabinet.
His rulings on September 22 also extended the suspension of parliament.
Bouden, the same age as Saied at 63, is a former director at PromESsE, a higher education reform project, and has held senior positions at Tunisia’s higher education ministry.
The French-educated geologist with a doctorate in geological engineering is a lecturer at Tunisia’s national engineering school.
Tunisia has for decades been seen as a regional pioneer in women’s rights, banning polygamy in 1956.
Saied however is seen as socially conservative. During his 2019 presidential run he was criticised for his opposition to an inheritance law enshrining equality between men and women.
Also an academic and political outsider, Saied swept to power on a wave of anger against the political class who have governed Tunisia since 2011 but failed to resolve pressing economic and social issues.
While many Tunisians praised his initial power grab, on Sunday more than 2,000 people demonstrated in central Tunis to demand a return to the constitution and Saied’s resignation, accusing him of ‘stealing’ the 2011 revolution.