Tunisia parliament approves historic coalition cabinet

TUNIS, TUNISIA, Kaouther Larbi- Tunisia's parliament approved Thursday a coalition government led by the secular Nidaa Tounes party and including moderate Islamist rivals Ennahda, following landmark elections in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Of 204 lawmakers present, the vote was a comfortable 166-30, with eight abstentions.
"The motto of this government will be work, then work... and nothing other than work," pledged Prime Minister Habib Essid, an independent.

His is the first government to be formed after the North African country's first free presidential and parliamentary elections last year.
It follows the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 in a revolution that spread to many parts of the Arab world.
"It is a government of national unity," new Health Minister Said Aidi told AFP.
Ennahda lawmaker Samir Dilou agreed, saying the "comfortable" majority of votes won by the Essid government will allow ministers to work without external pressure.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in a statement said the new government had a "historic responsibility" to tackle security and economic problems.
Nidaa Tounes, which won October's election, holds six portfolios including the foreign ministry, while the interior, defence and justice portfolios go to independents.
Ennahda takes the labour ministry and three secretary of state posts.
The vote had initially been set for Wednesday, but was delayed because of the high number of lawmakers who asked to address the special session of parliament.
Essid announced the cabinet Monday after dropping his initial team when Ennahda warned it would vote against any line-up that excluded it.
President Beji Caid Essebsi's anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party won 86 of parliament's 217 seats in October general elections, while Ennahda came in second with 69.
Along with two other parties, the government has a commanding majority of 179 seats.
Interim premier Mehdi Jomaa will hand over power to Essid during a formal ceremony Friday morning.
- 'Security against terrorism' -
Essid, a senior bureaucrat under Ben Ali before becoming interior minister in the first post-revolution government, also held top positions under an interim coalition led by Ennahda until early last year.
He said Wednesday the government's "top priority... will be one of providing security and the battle against terrorism".
In this vein, he insisted on the need to "expedite the passage of an anti-terrorist law" which has been delayed for months.
Tunisia's security forces are battling 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.
Additionally, some 2,000-3,000 Tunisians, many holding dual nationality, are believed to have joined jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Even so, the country has 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 economy remains sluggish and unemployment is 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".
The premier pointed out that the cabinet is comprised of people from all over the country, and said ministers would soon be fanning out into the provinces, some of which complain of having been long neglected by the central government.
The Free Patriotic Union party -- headed by football club magnate and former presidential hopeful Slim Riahi, the liberal Afek Tounes and the National Salvation Front are also represented in the government.
Voting against the cabinet was the leftist Popular Front coalition, which said it opposed the presence of Ennahda in the government.

Friday, February 6th 2015
Kaouther Larbi

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