Tunisia dismisses foreign, defence ministers

Tunisia President Kais Saied made his first major decision as head of state on Tuesday, approving the replacement of the foreign and defence ministers as the new parliament prepares for coalition talks.

Saied was elected president in a landslide on October 13, and was invested last Wednesday as head of state, a role that in Tunisia’s political system gives him direct control over foreign and defence policy.

However, while the president is the most senior directly elected official, most power is held by a governing coalition that requires a parliamentary majority.

The moderate Islamist Al Nahda, which won more seats than any other party in the October 6 parliamentary election, is preparing for formal negotiations with other parties to appoint a prime minister and a new government.

With the parliament deeply fractured and Al Nahda holding only 52 of the 217 seats, however, any new governing coalition will require complex and potentially lengthy negotiations.

If Al Nahda’s candidate for prime minister is not able to form a government within two months, Saied can name another candidate who would also have two months to try to build a coalition before new elections would be required.

Prime Minister Yousuf Chahed, who will keep his job until a new government is agreed, dismissed Khemaies Jhinaoui as foreign minister and Abdul Karim Zbidi as defence minister after consulting with Saied, Tuesday’s presidency statement said.

Karim Jamoussi, the justice minister, replaces Jhinaoui as acting foreign minister, while Sabri Bachtobji replaces Zbidi as acting defence minister, the statement added.

Under Tunisia’s constitution, the appointment or dismissal of government ministers must be approved by the president.