Tunis — Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Friday (February 28th) replaced 18 out of 24 governors.
The opposition had accused the previous appointees of being close to Ennahda. The changes affected the most important provinces, including Tunis, Sfax, Monastir, Sousse, and Gafsa in the south, which has witnessed significant social unrest for years.
The step came just one month after Jomaa was sworn in as new head of a non-partisan government to lead Tunisia to the next election.
"Mehdi Jomaa's government is committed to the roadmap, which stresses the need for party-neutral state institutions and paves the way for a proper election atmosphere," Habib Hamdi of Ettakatol party told Magharebia.
The opposition accuses Ennahda and its government of appointing thousands of members and supporters at Tunisian administrative positions with the aim of controlling the next election.
The Tunisian roadmap stressed the need to review partisan appointments, disband the revolution protection leagues that are accused of violence and put an end to terrorism.
Last Tuesday, following a quartet meeting with Mehdi Jomaa, Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) head Houcine Abbassi told journalists that the government was serious about reviewing the appointments and closing the file of the revolution protection leagues.
Jomaa also dismissed 17 cabinet advisors appointed by his predecessor Ali Larayedh. However, the opposition is demanding the removal of all those appointed by Larayedh and Hamadi Jebali from office.
"This is a good, but slow move," UGTT member Kacem Affaya told Magharebia. "There are still many Ennahda advisors whether in the prime minister's office or ministries. As to the latest changes in governors, we will examine them and verify whether they are neutral or not."
Meanwhile, Jomaa government ministers are also poised to introduce more changes in leadership positions in their ministries to ensure the neutrality of administration in the next election.
Education Minister Fathi Jarray said in an interview with Tunisia's state-run television that the changes would abide by the roadmap and would take place based on the examination of all appointees' files because it was not possible to relieve all cadres.
However, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said in a television interview on Sunday that reviewing appointments was not a priority. "Rather, the priority is to speed up the election," he noted.
For his part, Abdellatif Mekki, a prominent Ennahda leader and former health minister, told Mosaique FM that "the campaign to reconsider appointment was exaggerated by some and has reached the degree of chasing movement members and anyone linked to Ennahda."
"Those who received a presidential pardon assume simple positions and have nothing to do with politics," he noted
Meanwhile, Larayedh said on his Facebook page, "What we want is for every official to take off his party's cloak." They need to focus on their national responsibility to perform their "tasks and to treat all citizens equally", he added.
"What's important here is that every official work for the interest of Tunisia not for his or her party so we can get out of this crisis," agreed 37-year-old bank employee Mariam Ben Bouzid.
As citizens' interests were stalled, garbage piled up as a result of disrupted municipal work.
"No one wants to take decisions in the provinces out of fear of rival politicians' reactions," retiree Samir Ben Saleh said.
But, "there are neutral governors now and we hope that they will do their duty without any intervention from anyone," he added.