Tunisia’s New Assembly Holds Inaugural Session

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 8:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Tunisia inaugurated its new Constituent Assembly Tuesday following a power-sharing deal between moderate Islamists and secular parties.

The 217-member assembly began work almost a month after the tiny North African country held its first democratic elections and 10 months after a popular revolt ousted longtime president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

The first tasks were formalities — swearing in Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali from the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, President Moncef Marzouki from the center-left Congress for the Republic party, and assembly speaker Mustafa Ben Jafaar of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, or Ettakatol.

Lawmakers tasked with drafting a new constitution and political system sang the national anthem and were joined by senior officials in the incoming coalition government and ministers in the outgoing Cabinet.

The new Cabinet, which faces many challenges including attracting foreign investments and reviving the country's faltering economy, vowed to hold new elections in a year.

About 1,000 protesters, including relatives of people killed in the revolt, gathered outside the assembly building on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis. The demonstrators were from dozens of different organizations, many representing women calling for their rights to be guaranteed under the new constitution.

Among the protesters was the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller who immolated himself last December in an act of protest that triggered the revolution.

Ennahda took 90 of 217 assembly seats in last month's polls – three times the number won by its nearest rival. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, said his party would work to form a new government in “friendliness” and “brotherhood.” The secular Congress for the Republic placed second with 30 seats, while Ettakatol came in third with 21 seats.

Tunisia's landmark elections were widely considered free and fair.