TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A minister in Tunisia's previous government announced on Wednesday that he has been nominated as the country's new prime minister and quickly warned Tunisians to brace themselves for "exceptional sacrifices."
Youssef Chahed, an agricultural engineer by training, served as minister for local affairs in the government that fell over the weekend in a no-confidence vote. He would replace Prime Minister Habib Essid, a U.S.-trained agricultural economist who faced criticism from across the political spectrum.
The choice of Chahed came under criticism from some in part because he is related by marriage to President Beji Caid Essebsi — who nominates the new prime minister. The nomination was nevertheless likely to be approved by a parliamentary vote, as required. The parliament has a month to do so, but the vote could come sooner. Chahed said he could start consultations to form a new government on Wednesday.
He said the government would be a "government of youths" with more female ministers than the three in the outgoing Cabinet and favoring no one party.
Chahed, 41, said he is in a hurry to put Tunisia, a fledgling democracy, back on track.
Five parties support Chahed, including the two largest — his own Nida Tounes, founded by the president, and the Islamist Ennahda — which together hold a comfortable majority in parliament.
Unlike fellow Arab countries of the Arab Spring, whose revolts have degenerated into coups or anarchic civil conflicts, Tunisia has come through its own revolution as a budding democracy — in the face of jihadi attacks, inflation, and stubbornly high unemployment rates.
"Today, we enter into a new stage that demands efforts and exceptional sacrifices and boldness to find out-of-the-box solution to the nation's problems," Chahed told reporters. "We will speak frankly to the people about the reality of the country's financial and economic situation."
Chahed, setting out priorities, said the first is the war on terrorism. This North African nation wedged between Algeria and Libya, suffered two major attacks last year— at a beach resort and the well-known Bardo Museum — that killed around 60 people, mainly tourists.
He said fighting corruption should be another priority, along with increasing growth to create jobs. Growth is currently hovering at zero. He singled out the nation's youths, saying they "must not lose hope in the future."
Numerous unemployed young people with university educations have set themselves afire in recent years, and one self-immolation of a man selling vegetables and fruits in a provincial town triggered the revolution that toppled long-time autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country in January 2011, inspiring the Arab Spring.
Critics cite the lack of political experience of Chahed, who came to politics after the revolution, and his lack of understanding of the problems the country faces. The head of the leftist Popular Front party fears Chahed "will follow instructions" from the president, increasing the role of Essebsi.
This story has been corrected to show that the year that former president Ben Ali was toppled is 2011, not 2010.