Who is Najla Romdhane, Tunisia’s first female prime minister?

The 63-year-old political unknown has been tasked by President Saied to form a government in the ‘coming hours or days’.

Tunisia's President Saied meets Romdhane after her appointment as prime minister [Tunisian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Najla Bouden Romdhane has been named Tunisia’s first female prime minister, two months after President Kais Saied assumed executive authority, sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament.

Romdhane, 63, was assigned on Wednesday to form a new government amid growing domestic and international discontent about the president’s power seizure.

“For the first time in Tunisia’s history, a woman will head a government,” Saied said in a video posted on the presidency’s Facebook page.

Saied said he will work with Romdhane “with a firm will and determination to combat corruption and chaos that pervaded in many state institutions”.

Romdhane is likely to have less direct power than previous prime ministers under the 2014 constitution after Saied last week said that during the emergency period, the government would be responsible to the president.

Little-known engineer

Born in Tunisia’s central Kairouan province in 1958, Romdhane is a geology professor at the National School of Engineers in the capital Tunis.

Before she was appointed prime minister, she was assigned by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to implement programmes with the World Bank, according to the official Tunisian News Agency.

In 2011, she was appointed director-general in charge of quality at the Ministry of Higher Education.

The little-known engineer does not have any political affiliation, according to Anadolu Agency.

There was no immediate reaction from Tunisia’s powerful General Labour Union or political parties to Romdhane’s appointment.

However, parliament members may challenge the legality of any government appointment without the consent of the now-suspended chamber.

‘Positive sign’

Romdhane is set to inherit a political and economic crisis that has gripped the North African country during the past few years and which has worsened since Saied’s “exceptional measures.”

Last week, Saied issued presidential decrees bolstering his already near-total power and announced plans for a transitional government and new electoral rules.

Tunisia also faces an unprecedented outbreak of the COVID-19 strains in most states, causing a rapid spread of the virus.

Many in Tunisia hope that Romdhane will revive the country’s image as the only Arab country that succeeded in carrying out a democratic transition following popular revolutions that toppled the ruling regimes.

“It is a positive sign that a woman will lead the government. I hope she will immediately start saving the country from the spectre of bankruptcy. She should quickly look at the problems of Tunisians,” said Amin Ben Salem, a banker in Tunis.

However, Samir Dilou, a former government minister who resigned from Ennahdha – Tunisia’s largest party – called Bouden’s appointment “illegal” because it was based on Saied’s presidential decrees.

In a message published on his Facebook page, Dilou said the new Cabinet would face “great challenges given the huge difficulties the country’s finance and economy are going through and its fragile sanitary situation” during the pandemic.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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