Tunisia's new unity government takes office

2016-08-30 22:02
Tunisia's new Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. (AFP)

Tunisia's new Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. (AFP)

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Tunis - A new Tunisian unity government took office on Monday in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, the country's youngest-ever leader, facing major economic and security challenges.

Chahed, who turns 41 next month, becomes the former French colony's seventh prime minister in less than six years, following a 2011 revolution that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

His new cabinet of 26 ministers and 14 ministers of state includes women, young and independent ministers, three members of the Islamist Ennahda party and two former members of the powerful UGTT union.

The interior and defence ministers were kept on, in a show of faith for having restored calm after a string of spectacular jihadist attacks last year.

It formally took office at a ceremony in Carthage just outside Tunis during which outgoing premier Habib Essid, 67, handed over power.

Rare success story 

"I hope this government will last," Essid said. "The worst thing for this country is the government changing ever year or year and a half."
Chahed responded: "The situation is complicated, but we're optimistic. We will shoulder our responsibilities."
"Don't worry about Tunisia and its future," he told his predecessor.
While Tunisia is considered to be a rare success story of the Arab Spring, the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty, unemployment and corruption that preceded Ben Ali's fall.
A wave of jihadist attacks, including two deadly assaults last year that killed dozens of foreign tourists, has further exacerbated problems in the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.
On the same day as the new government took office, three soldiers were killed in a blast set off by "terrorists" near Mount Sammama, a hideout for jihadists, the defence ministry said.

Battered economy 

Analysts say it is too soon to tell if Chahed can restore security and revitalise Tunisia's battered economy which grew by just 0.8% last year compared with 2.3% in 2014.

"It is difficult to say if this last-minute government will have the time to prove it is efficient," said political analyst Slaheddin Jourchi.

"Current indicators give the impression that failure may be closer than success," he said.

The new government won a vote of confidence in parliament on Friday, with 167 out of 217 lawmakers in favour of the line-up.

In a rousing speech to parliament, Chahed spoke of the dire state of the economy and said that "we are all responsible" and "we will all have to make sacrifices".

"If nothing changes by 2017 austerity will follow," he warned.

Chahed also said his government would give priority to fighting corruption and "terrorism", in answer to the demands of a public disenchanted by Tunisia's repeated crisis over the past five years.

Time for action 

"Time for action!" ran the slogan in an editorial on Monday in La Presse newspaper.

Chahed was appointed by President Beji Caid Essebsi in early August after lawmakers passed a vote of no confidence in Essid's government following just 18 months in office.

Essid had already been forced into making a sweeping government reshuffle in January, when the country witnessed some of its worst social unrest since the 2011 uprising.

A liberal and member of Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes party, the new prime minister was a local affairs minister before his appointment to the premiership.

An agricultural engineer and academic, he entered politics after the revolution and joined Nidaa Tounes in 2013.

Critics opposed the nomination of a member of a party which led the last government and was widely seen to have failed, and his links through marriage to the Essebsi family also raised eyebrows.

Selim Kherrat, another political analyst, said Chahed would remain Essebsi's man. "He is someone who was designated by and will remain subjugated to the president" for his rise to the top, he said.

But a figure close to the new premier, asking not to be named, insisted Chahed was "an honest man, hardworking, and he does not belong to any lobby".

Read more on:    youssef chahed  |  tunisia  |  north africa

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