Tunisian parliament approves prime minister's cabinet reshuffle

TUNIS (Reuters) - The Tunisian parliament approved on Monday a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed amid a political and economic crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's Prime Minister Youssef Chahed gestures as he speaks during a national conference over 2019 budget in Tunis, Tunisia, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo

The approval is widely seen in Tunisia as a victory for Chahed over his political opponents, including his party Nidaa Tounes, who demanded that he step down because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.

Youssef Chahed named 10 new ministers last week in a cabinet reshuffle he hopes will inject fresh blood into his government.

Chahed named Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism in the Muslim Arab country, only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia’s independence in 1956.

A former foreign minister under the former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Kamel Morjan, became minister in charge of the public service, Tunisia’s main employer.

Portfolios such as finance, foreign affairs and the interior ministries were unchanged.

Lawmakers voted to approve the reshuffle, giving Chahed support to push on with economic reforms asked by lenders.

“Since two years we were working under random shelling from friendly fire,” Chahed said in speech in the parliament.

“We have not found political support in the reforms and in the fight against corruption, this is no longer possible as we want clarity to move forward in reviving the economy and ending the political crisis,” he said.

The prime minister has been caught up in a dispute with the leader of the party, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is also the president’s son, and has accused Chahed of failing to tackle high inflation, unemployment and other problems.

The party’s demands have been supported by the influential UGTT union, which has also opposed Chahed’s plans to overhaul loss-making public companies.

The political wrangling has alarmed donors which have kept Tunisia afloat with loans granted in exchange for a promise of reforms such as cutting a bloated public service.

“This reshuffle is a coup against the winning party in the 2014 elections ... Chahed did not consult with Nidaa Tounes about this reshuffle”, Sofian Toubel, an official in Nidaa Tounes said.

Tunisia has been hailed for its democratic transition since 2011 but the North African country has been hit by economic crisis and militant attacks since then.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by Grant McCool