Tunisia Monday presented its new coalition government, dominated by the secular Nidaa Tounes party but also including its Islamist rivals, as it prepares to tackle security problems and a faltering economy.
Prime Minister Habib Essid announced the make-up of his cabinet, which had initially been abandoned after the moderate Islamist Ennahda party warned it would vote against a line-up that excluded its members.
“We have made changes… to widen the composition of the government with the participation of other political parties,” Essid said.
The new team, which includes a minister and three state secretaries from Ennahda, will be put before parliament for a vote of confidence on Wednesday.
“We have no more time to lose, we are in a race against the clock,” Essid said as he announced the line-up at the presidency.
His government will be the first since landmark parliamentary and presidential elections last year that were the first freely contested polls in the history of the North African country.
The anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes of President Beji Caid Essebsi won the largest number of seats in October’s general election, with Ennahda coming second.
But Nida Tounes did not secure a majority and Ennahda, which holds 69 of parliament’s 217 seats, had rejected a cabinet in which it was not represented.
Political scientist Ahmed Manai said the “almost symbolic” representation of Ennahda would ensure a majority for the government in parliamentary votes and allow Essebsi to “neutralise” the Islamists.
Tunisia has struggled to form a stable government since it became the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings by ousting longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
It received international praise for its transition to democracy, in stark contrast to other countries in the region now battling instability after similar revolts.
However, the country is mired with a sluggish economy, and unemployment remains stubbornly high, especially among young people.
Essebsi has vowed to address economic problems to “realise the promises of the revolution: dignity, employment, health and regional equality”.
In addition, Tunisian security forces continue to battle jihadists who have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on police and soldiers that have killed dozens of people since Ben Ali’s ouster.
Monday’s cabinet allotted six ministerial posts to Nidaa Tounes members, including that of foreign affairs. The portfolios of interior, defence and justice were assigned to independents.
The Free Patriotic Union party — headed by football club magnate and former presidential hopeful Slim Riahi — and the liberal Afek Tounes will also be represented.
Several Nidaa Tounes officials fought for weeks against the inclusion of Ennahda members, accusing them of bringing Tunisia to the brink during their time in office as part of an interim government.
“It is normal that the primary party is in power and the second in opposition,” Nidaa Tounes general secretary Taieb Baccouche wrote in La Presse newspaper.
He added that keeping Ennahda out of government had been “a promise to voters” made by the secularists.
The far-left Popular Front coalition, which won 15 seats in parliament, said on Monday it would vote against the new cabinet make-up because of the presence of Islamists.