Tunis – Negotiations have begun to form a new government in Tunisia after parliamentarians voted this weekend to sack Prime Minister Habib Essid, whose critics charge that he has failed to tackle the country’s economic and social crises.
“The vote was a test for democracy,” Ibtissem Jbebli, a member of parliament for the Nidaa Tounes party, told Al Jazeera from the capital, Tunis. “We are a young democracy and a model for the Arab world.”
Citing little progress on the economic front during Essid’s year-and-a-half in office, Jbebli said the outlook was too grim to allow him to remain.
“Look at how the dinar is dropping. Our economy is in a terrible state. We could not afford to give him a second chance,” Jbebli said. “He was hesitant and just didn’t take firm decisions.”
Essid, 67, had faced increasing pressure to step down in recent weeks, after President Beji Caid Essebsi appeared on national television in June to criticise Essid’s performance and propose a new government of national unity.
A total of 118 members of parliament voted to oust Essid, while three voted for him to remain and 27 abstained.
In addition to Nidaa Tounes, Essid’s coalition government was composed of independents, two small liberal parties – the Free Patriotic Union and Afek Tounes – and the Islamist Ennahda party. Ennahda became the largest parliamentary force in parliament after 22 Nidaa Tounes politicians split off in January amid party infighting.
All of Ennahda’s members of parliament voted to unseat Essid.
“We spent 11 hours discussing the matter,” Ennahda party spokesman Oussama Sghaier told Al Jazeera. “We practised our democracy. It’s very important what we did.”
According to Sghaier, Essid had done what he could, but Tunisia needs new leadership.
“People have high expectations. We need a national leader, a politician – not a technocrat like him,” Sghaier said. “In the next government, there will be more consensus. That will make it easier to solve problems.”
Houda Slim, a member of parliament who abstained from the vote, said she believed Essid had been ousted because he “did what he thought was right”.
“Nidaa Tounes wasn’t happy about that. I’m worried they won’t select the most competent person now, but someone from their own people who will obey orders,” Slim told Al Jazeera. Although Ennahda has a parliamentary majority, Tunisia’s president is from Nidaa Tounes.
Before the vote, members of parliament praised Essid for his “integrity” while simultaneously criticising his record. After the vote, he received a standing ovation from parliamentarians.
If they don't manage to agree on everything now and they appoint a prime minister with minimum support, problems will arise again. There will be calls for his resignation and large-scale demonstrations.
“Many commentators have praised this exercise of democracy,” Tunisian journalist Farida Ayari told Al Jazeera. “But I think it was ridiculous to first praise him and then sack him. Also, how can you expect someone to clean up all this mess in only 18 months? This was not just the responsibility of one man.”
It is a shame that Essid did not speak more about the corruption and nepotism he witnessed during his time in office, and about the pressure on him to resign, Ayari added: “He had nothing to lose.”
Political analyst Youssef Cherif also noted that Essid was not given enough time to make the changes needed for the country.
“He was clearly failing, but with so many problems, nobody would have been able to do a better job,” Cherif told Al Jazeera.
According to the country’s constitution, a new prime minister has to be named within 10 days and a government seated a month after that.
“But seeing how fragile the situation is, any last-minute problem can postpone things,” Cherif said. “If they don’t manage to agree on everything now and they appoint a prime minister with minimum support, problems will arise again. There will be calls for his resignation and large-scale demonstrations.”
If the politicians cannot agree, the time period can be extended, Slim said. “If that doesn’t lead to anything we will need new parliamentary elections,” she said. “But hopefully that won’t be necessary.”
Slim already fears that Essid’s ousting could slow down many decisions within the government. “A new government needs time,” she said. “People will need to get to know each other.”
There has been much speculation about who the next prime minister could be – already the sixth prime minister since the downfall of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Some of the ministers who have performed well in Essid’s cabinet will likely continue in the new cabinet, while others will be replaced.
Blogger and communications specialist Abdelkarim Benabdallah, who said Essid was “not the right person” to lead Tunisia, remained hopeful that the next prime minister would be more capable, but added: “The problem is that it’s a hell of a job. Nobody can do it well. It’s like suicide. Anyone would think twice before accepting it.”
Jbebli said she was confident that the new candidate would perform better and “get the country to move forward again”, but Slim was more pessimistic in her outlook.
“We are realistic,” she said. “Nobody can perform the miracles we need right now.”
Follow Thessa Lageman on Twitter: @thessalageman