Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has named Wednesday a little-known technocrat as prime minister after parliament ousted Habib Essid in a vote of no-confidence over his handling of economic reforms and security.
Opposition parties quickly denounced the appointment of Youssef Chahed, an agricultural science specialist and junior minister under Essid, saying he lacked the credentials for the job and had been chosen simply because he was a pliant ally of the president.
Since its 2011 revolution to oust Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has grown into a model of democracy in a turbulent region.
But Islamist militant attacks on tourist spots last year have tested the government, and political infighting in the ruling coalition has slowed economic progress needed to ease social tensions especially among the young employed.
Essebsi had been pushing for a new national unity government in an attempt to overcome Tunisia’s current woes.
Chahed, who is also a senior member of the secular Nidaa Tounes party, told reporters: “The president has put me in charge of the national unity government. This is a message of confidence for young people also. In this delicate time, we need a lot of audacious decisions.”
“Our priorities are a war on corruption, winning the war on terrorism, push for growth and balancing public finances,” he said.
He dismissed reports he had any family ties to Essebsi, responding to opposition criticism and local media that he was a distant relative of Essebsi.
Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahda party, both part of the ruling coalition, control a majority of the seats in parliament, meaning that Chahed’s nomination is likely to be accepted by lawmakers when they vote on his approval.
Essebsi already faces widespread criticism over what some see as his attempt at a hereditary transfer of power to his son Hafed, the new leader of Nidaa Tounes. This has split his party with critics breaking to form a new movement.
“Essebsi succeeded in getting those close to him into power and turning the political system to his favor,” Adnen Monsar, leader of the Alirada opposition party. “Now he has a premier who will follow his instructions.”
Chahed has 30 days to name a new government. But he will be under pressure to deliver on reforms demanded by Tunisia’s multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Among the economic reforms needed in Tunisia are to overhaul investment and fiscal codes, and reduce high public subsidies as well as promoting job growth.
Many young people in central and southern regions long dependent on agriculture say they feel abandoned by Tunis and let down by the revolution’s promise of opportunity.