Former Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi on June 16 launched a new secularist political party aimed at counterbalancing Ennahda, the moderate Islamist group that swept to power in the first free elections last year.
Ennahda, which was banned under ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, won more than 40 percent of seats in a new constituent assembly in October and has gone on to form a government in coalition with two non-religious parties. Beji Caid Essebsi announced the formation of the Nida’ Tounes (Tunisia’s Call) party on June 16 before thousands of men and women in a packed hall. Essebsi said it was time for secular parties to retake the initiative from Ennahda. The 85-year-old said he wants a party “that unifies everyone, without exclusion.” He called it a “balancing force that can create conditions for an alternative,” according to the Associated Press. While a large number of small secular parties split the liberal and leftist vote, Ennahda scooped much of the conservative vote and emerged as the single most powerful group in Tunisian politics.