TUNIS : Tunisian premier-designate Mehdi Jomaa, who was tasked Friday with forming a cabinet of independents to end months of political deadlock, is a newcomer who faces mounting social grievances and Islamist unrest.
“I met President Moncef Marzouki, who charged me with forming the government,” Jomaa said Friday, speaking from the presidency. “I will do my best, but I cannot perform miracles,” he said, pledging to form a cabinet that was “independent and neutral, bearing no animosity towards any movement or party.”
Jomaa, who will also oversee fresh elections, was picked in December as the consensus candidate to head the caretaker administration and resolve Tunisia’s festering political crisis, nearly three years after the uprising that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
A little-known former industry minister, Jomaa takes over from Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh at a time when Tunisia’s political climate is dogged by mistrust between the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the mainly secular opposition. He faces the daunting task of forming a non-partisan government within 15 days and organising elections later this year in Tunisia, which has been gripped by strikes and often violent protests driven partly by the country’s economic malaise. Unemployment and regional inequality were driving factors behind the revolution that unseated Ben Ali, inspiring protests across the Middle East and North Africa that toppled leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Jomaa’s political career began only in March when he was appointed to the cabinet. The 51-year-old father of five, who has no stated political affiliations, graduated from the National Engineering School of Tunis in 1988 before taking a higher degree in mechanics. He then went on to a career in the private sector, and headed a division of Hutchinson, the aerospace unit of French conglomerate Total. Jomaa became industry minister in the government that Larayedh formed in March, a month after the assassination of key opposition figure Chokri Belaid plunged the country into deep crisis. Since then, he has stayed aloof from political jockeying and focused on his portfolio.