Tunisia PM wins confidence vote for cabinet reshuffle
TUNIS - Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi strengthened his grip on power late Monday when parliament approved a cabinet reshuffle ahead of key elections.
Observers say the new cabinet, which places Essebsi allies in key positions, consolidates the 90-year-old president's hold on the executive, months ahead of Tunisia's first post-revolution municipal polls.
"It is the president who pulls the strings," French language daily Le Quotidien said.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed easily won a confidence vote for his new line-up, backed by lawmakers from his own Nidaa Tounes party and its Islamist ally in government, Ennahdha, which together dominate parliament.
He announced the new line-up last week after talks with Essebsi, who founded secular Nidaa Tunes and later became prime minister before being elected president in the wake of a 2011 revolution that overthrew veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Chahed, the youngest premier in the North African country's post-independence history, promised a "government of combat" to continue "the war against terrorism, the war against corruption, the war for growth, the war against unemployment and regional inequalities".
He played up his government's economic achievements and said he had appointed new interior and defence ministers "to strengthen our country's capacities in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and smuggling".
But observers say the new team consolidates the clout of Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes.
The new cabinet includes former advisers to the president as ministers of finance and health, while the nominee for the defence ministry, Abdelkrim Zbidi, held the same post when Essebsi was prime minister.
Analyst Selim Kharrat said Essebsi had the government under his control well before the reshuffle.
"The only difference is that it is much more blatant... and that the presidency hardly hides," he said.
Essebsi has yet to give any indication of his intentions when his five-year term ends in 2019.
Many of his detractors have voiced concern about the intentions of his son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the influential leader of Nidaa Tounes.
In a country still marked by decades of dictatorship, many have also criticised the nomination of ministers who served under Ben Ali.
Chahed said his new cabinet would respect the "national unity" needed to pass much-needed reforms.