Tunisia's outgoing prime minister backs broad coalition government to implement reforms

DAKAR, Senegal – Tunisia’s next government should be a broad as possible coalition so that it has the necessary support to implement difficult economic reforms, the outgoing prime minister said Friday in an implicit backing of an Islamist-secular alliance.

A secular nationalist party called Nida Tunis won the most seats in October’s parliamentary election on an explicitly anti-Islamist platform.

While the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party came in second, many Nida Tunis officials have characterized any potential alliance as “unnatural.”

Without the Islamists, who hold 69 seats to Nida Tunis’ 86 seats in the 217 member assembly, the new government coalition would be fairly weak.

“Obviously to pass reforms, you need a large consensus,” Mehdi Jomaa told the Associated Press while attending the 15th biannual summit of French speaking countries in Dakar, Senegal. “Considering the difficulties that we have, (the governing coalition) has to be the largest possible and what’s more it has to be open to an opposition.”

Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling dictator in 2011 in part because of high unemployment, a situation that has only become marginally better in the intervening years.

Jomaa’s government of technocrats took over in January after an Islamist-led coalition stepped down amid a political crisis. He put forward a strategy to reinvigorate the economy by cutting subsidies and government jobs and reforming outdated policies to lure in new investment.

A presidential runoff between Nida Tunis’ leader, Beji Caid Essebsi and the current interim president, Islamist-backed Moncef Marzouki, is set for December.

Alone among the Arab Spring countries, Tunisia’s democratic transition has remained on track, however it could still be derailed by social unrest stemming from high inflation and unemployment.

An estimated 3,000 of Tunisia’s disaffected youth have flocked to fight with the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria — the most of any foreign country.

Jomaa said some 400 had returned and were under investigation.