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Tunisian designated Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi delivers his speech at the parliament before a confidence vote in Tunis, Tuesday. Image Credit: AP

Tunis: Lawmakers approved Tunisia’s government in the third such vote this year, rejecting a last-minute intervention by the largely ceremonial president which had suggested a new bout of the political wrangling that’s hobbling the economy.

Prime Minister-designate Hichem Mechichi won a comfortable majority of votes for his suggested cabinet on Wednesday, heading off the prospect of fresh elections. It came as Tunisian media reported President Kais Saied had urged some blocs to vote against his hand-picked premier for reasons that weren’t clear.

Tunisians focused their anger on a squabbling political elite in elections last year by voting in an array of outsiders and smaller parties. The country has had about a dozen governments since 2011.

Mechichi, whose predecessor resigned in July, has a battle ahead. The coronavirus is piling more pressure on the North African country that’s been unable to match the democratic gains of its Arab Spring uprising with economic ones. Gross domestic product may contract 7% this year and about a fifth of the workforce is unemployed.

Addressing parliament in Tunis before the vote, Mechichi warned that people were losing patience with economic hardship and repeated changes of government. He vowed to stop the “haemorrhaging” of public finances, hold talks with potential lenders and support businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mechichi is the second of two premiers chosen by Saied since lawmakers in January rejected an administration proposed by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which has the most seats in parliament. Support from Ennahda and the next-biggest party, Heart of Tunisia, were key to Mechichi securing his government.

Shortly before the assembly voted, Mechichi said his government will discuss with political blocs what he called a result-oriented plan, without elaborating.

No official explanation has been given as to why Saied, a former constitutional law professor, sought to oppose Mechichi’s team. Tunisian broadcaster Mosaique FM reported that he opposed the premier-designate’s pick for the interior and culture ministries, and that he’d pledged to keep the assembly intact if it voted against Mechichi.

Lawmakers from Heart of Tunisia on Tuesday criticised Saied for allegedly infringing on his constitutional prerogatives and seeking to reduce the assembly’s role.

Among the appointments in the new government, the head of Bank ABC Tunisie, Ali Kooli, gets control of the finance, economy and investment portfolios, while Othman Jerandi becomes foreign affairs and migration minister.

Mechichi is expected to be sworn in by Saied later on Wednesday.