New Tunisian leader must deal with economic, security issues

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Youssef Chahed during a news conference in Tunis. Picture: ZOUBEIR SOUISSI / REUTERS
Tunisia’s Prime Minister-designate Youssef Chahed during a news conference in Tunis.

The new Tunisian unity government took office in the birthplace of the Arab Spring yesterday, with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, the country’s youngest leader yet, facing major economic and security challenges.

At 40, Chahed is Tunisia’s youngest premier since independence from France in 1956, and the seventh in less than six years since the 2011 uprising 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.

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

“I hope this government will last,” Essid said.

“The worst thing for this country is the government changing every year or year and a half.” Chahed said: “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 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.

Analysts say it is too soon to tell whether Chahed can restore security and revitalise Tunisia’s battered economy, which grew just 0.8% last year, against 2.3% in 2014.

Political analyst Slaheddin Jourchi said: “It is difficult to say whether this last-minute government will have the time to prove it is ef ficient. “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 MPs in favour of the lineup.

In a rousing speech to parliament, Chahed spoke of the dire state of the economy and said: “We are all responsible,” and “We will all have to make sacrifices. “If nothing changes by 2017, austerity will follow,” he warned.

He also said his government would give priority to fighting corr uption. Chahed was appointed by President Beji Caid Essebsi early this month after MPs passed a vote of no confidence in Essid’s government after just 18 months.

Essid had already been forced into a sweeping government reshuffle in January, when the country had some of its worst social unrest since the 2011 uprising. Chahed, a liberal and member of Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party, was a low-key minister before becoming premier.

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