Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tunisia's Al Nahda Unveils New Cabinet in Latest Bid to Placate Critics

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tunisia's Al Nahda Unveils New Cabinet in Latest Bid to Placate Critics

Article excerpt

Tunisias ruling Al Nahda (Ennahda) party today unveiled a new cabinet lineup it hopes will end political squabbling that has stalled democratic reforms and threatened its own hold on power.

That may succeed, but a tougher test awaits: voters.

For Al Nahda, an Islamist party that swept 2011 parliamentary elections, the stakes are high. Many ordinary Tunisians blame the coalition government it leads for economic malaise. Al Nahda needs to prove it can lead the country as rivals gear up for elections later this year in which they hope to best the party, or at least clip its wings.

Meanwhile, a new constitution and preparations for elections are months overdue. Its still unclear what kind of system will ultimately replace the regime of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled two years ago.

Work towards building a new system has been crippled by months of political deadlock. The Feb. 6 murder of an opposition leader unleashed pent-up anger and leaders scrambled to calm the public and resolve a dispute over cabinet posts that has hobbled the government since last summer.

Then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, from Al Nahda, proposed replacing the government with a purely technocratic cabinet. Major opposition parties and one of Al Nahda's coalition partners initially backed the plan.

But Al Nahda did not. It argues that its 2011 electoral win warrants it a healthy slice of power. Mr. Jebali, thwarted by his party, stepped down and was replaced two weeks ago by Ali Larayedh, a senior Al Nahda member who has served thus far as interior minister.

Since then, Mr. Larayedh has been cloistered with party leaders to hammer out a new cabinet. Al Nahda has been under pressure to relinquish powerful ministries in particular, justice and foreign affairs. Talks have stretched to the brink of a 15-day legal deadline. …

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