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Tunisia parliament approves new government amid PM-president strains

Lawmakers voted late Monday to approve the lineup, which President Beji Caid Essebsi has complained he was only informed of 'at the last minute'.

FILE: Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed speaks during a meeting to present to parliament the outline of the 2018 budget on 21 November 2017 in Tunis. Picture: AFP

TUNIS - Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's new government has won a vote of confidence in Parliament at a time of tensions between the premier and the president in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Lawmakers voted late Monday to approve the lineup, which President Beji Caid Essebsi has complained he was only informed of "at the last minute".

The reshuffle has brought in 13 new faces although the key portfolios of interior, foreign affairs, and defence remain unchanged.

Chahed, who has served as premier since 2016, told parliament his government would work to boost growth, investment, and job creation as well as to limit the public deficit to 3.9% in the 2019 budget.

"For the past two years, the government has worked in the face of anarchic political offensives, with the fire from friends stronger than that from the opposition," he said.

Strains between Chahed and Essebsi have fuelled speculation that the prime minister plans to run in next year's presidential poll.

Chahed is the longest serving of the country's premiers since the 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the Arab Spring regional uprisings.

But his ability to govern was damaged in September when he fell out with Essebsi's son Hafedh, leader of their Nidaa Tounes party, who has been battling to oust the premier for months.

Some Nidaa Tounes lawmakers have condemned the reshuffle as tantamount to a coup.

The president, who himself named Chahed two years ago, last week denied a rift with the prime minister but said the reshuffle had "displeased" him.

The premier "must inform the head of state of everything he decides", he said.

Political instability has risked worsening as Tunisia grapples with unemployment running at over 15% and inflation of more than 7.5%, feeding into social tensions.