The 63-year-old political unknown has been tasked by President Saied to form a government in the ‘coming hours or days’.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known university engineer who worked with the World Bank, as the country’s first female prime minister, nearly two months after he seized most powers in a move his foes call a coup.
Romdhane will take office at a time of national crisis, with the democratic gains won in a 2011 revolution in doubt and as a major threat looms over public finances.
Saied dismissed the previous prime minister, suspended Parliament and assumed wide executive powers in July, and has been under growing domestic and international pressure to form a new government.
Last week he brushed aside much of the constitution to say he could rule largely by decree.
He named Romdhane under provisions he announced last week and has asked her to form a new government quickly, the presidency said on social media.
Saied’s office published a video of him meeting Romdhane in his office and charging her with presenting a cabinet “in the coming hours or days”.
He repeatedly emphasised the “historic” nomination of a woman, calling it “an honour for Tunisia and a homage to Tunisian women”.
Saied said the new government’s main mission would be to “put an end to the corruption and chaos that have spread throughout many state institutions”.
The new government should respond to the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all fields, including health, transport and education, he added.
Romdhane 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 faces a rapidly looming public finance crisis after years of economic stagnation were aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and political infighting.
It won international plaudits for its democratic transition, but many Tunisians have seen little improvement in their lives and have become disillusioned with a dysfunctional and corrupt political process.
The new government will have to move very quickly to seek financial support for the budget and debt repayments after Saied’s power grab in July put talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on hold.
Saied’s moves placed vast executive powers in the hands of the president, who will himself head the cabinet.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Tunis, said Romdhane will be under considerable pressure as she has been “thrust right into the heart of the spotlight”.
“Ordinarily under Tunisia’s constitutional system, the president appoints a prime minister, who then appoints members of her cabinet and this all has to be approved by Parliament,” Smith said.
“But the president has suspended Parliament – so he’s appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, but there’ll be no parliamentary approval of this,” he said.
Former parliamentary officer Cherif El Kadhi said Romdhane may form a cabinet that will be “formally approved” by a swearing-in ceremony in front of the president.
“Saeed is against or opposed to many parts of the 2014 constitution – he wants a new regime and he’s really willing to change the political system at probably any cost,” El Kadhi told Al Jazeera from Tunis.
Despite many political parties opposing his latest moves, Saeed is mainly counting on the “huge popular support that he has till today,” he added.
The president is moving forward with “amending the constitution, the political system, and his philosophy of bottom-up democracy,” El Kadhi said.
Romdhane – who is the same age as Saied, 63 – is a former director at PromESsE, a higher education reform project, and has held senior positions at Tunisia’s higher education ministry.
Originally from Kairouan, she is a French-educated geologist with a doctorate in geological engineering and is a lecturer at Tunisia’s national engineering school.