Tunisia president names Najla Bouden as country’s first female PM

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Tunisia’s president on Wednesday appointed the country’s first female prime minister and directed her to form a Cabinet “in the coming hours or days.”

Najla Bouden, 63, from the city of Kairouan, is a French-educated geologist with a Ph.D. in geological engineering, and is a lecturer at Tunisia’s national engineering school. She is the former director of a higher education reform project, and has held senior positions at Tunisia’s Higher Education Ministry.

President Kais Saied said the nomination of a woman was “historic,” and described it as “an honor for Tunisia and a homage to Tunisian women.” He said the new prime minister’s main mission would be to “put an end to the corruption and chaos that have spread throughout many state institutions.”

Bouden’s appointment confounds critics who accused the president of imposing one-man rule in July after he dismissed former Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government, suspended parliament, lifted MPs’ immunity from prosecution and took over the judiciary.

His moves followed months of political deadlock in the face of a pressing economic crisis and mounting coronavirus deaths. The Islamist Ennahda party, led by parliamentary Speaker Rachid Ghannouchi, accused the president of carrying out a coup, but Tunisia’s political elite are widely reviled and the president’s actions commanded overwhelming public support.

Bouden will be Tunisia’s 10th prime minister since a 2011 uprising overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The country has won 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.

Tunisia faces a looming crisis in public finances after years of economic stagnation were aggravated by the pandemic and political infighting. Government bonds made their best gains in a year on the news of Bouden’s appointment.

“The key is the possibility of IMF support,” said Viktor Szabo, an emerging markets portfolio manager at ABRDN in London. The new government urgently needs financial support for the budget and debt repayments after Saied’s changes put talks with the International Monetary Fund on hold.

Amin Ben Salem, a banker in Tunis, said: “It is a positive sign that a woman will lead the government. I hope she will immediately start saving the country from the specter of bankruptcy.”

Many women in Tunis welcome Bouden’s appointment. Raoua Gorab, a jobseeker in her thirties, said the key issue was to “improve the situation in the job market. After the coronavirus pandemic, there’s nothing left, everything has closed.”

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