Tunisia President Calls on Ex-Minister to Form Unity Government

  • Chaab Movement says withdrawing from government talks
  • PM-designate Al-Shahed has 30 days to put together cabinet

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi officially designated a party colleague to form a new national unity government, but the confirmation process threatened to turn rocky after a small political faction withdrew from the process.

Youssef Al-Shahed, who served as local affairs minister in the government of outgoing Prime Minister Habib Essid, said Wednesday he had been chosen to set up the new administration. He has 30 days to choose his cabinet before it goes to lawmakers for their approval. Essid’s government lost a no-confidence vote in parliament over the weekend.

Essebsi, a member of the powerful Nidaa Tounes party, unofficially chose Al-Shahed, a 40-year-old agricultural economist, to lead the new government late Monday. Opposition lawmakers wanted a non-partisan leader and after the nomination became official, Chaab party leader Zuhaif Al-Maghzauoi said his faction would pull out of the coalition talks. 

While a solid democratic process has taken root in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, political stability and economic progress have been elusive. Although spared the brunt of the unrest that gripped other regional players after entrenched leaders were deposed, the country has been through a succession of governments since the 2011 revolt, and efforts to revive its economy have stumbled.

Sluggish Growth

Unemployment is 15 percent, output grew just 0.8 percent last year, and
tourism has been hammered by militant attacks.

At a press conference after his appointment, Al-Shahed promised to include politicians of various stripes in his government, and said it would focus on combating terrorism and corruption, boosting growth and improving fiscal discipline.

The country in June secured a $2.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan by promising to boost private sector growth, curb the public sector payroll, create jobs and allow greater exchange rate flexibility.