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Tunisia's Next Government Must be Broad-Based, says Leader of Biggest Party

FILE - Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party, attends the parliament's opening, in Tunis, Nov. 13, 2019.

Tunisia's new government must be broad-based to implement sorely needed reforms, the leader of the largest party in parliament said on Wednesday, in comments that signaled the country could face a snap election.

Tunisian politicians have been struggling to build a new government since an inconclusive election last October. Tunisia also faces pressing economic problems, nine years after the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh wants to exclude from his proposed coalition the second biggest party in parliament, the secularist Heart of Tunisia, saying it is not aligned with the values of the uprising that toppled Ben Ali.

But the leader of the biggest party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, said parliament would not back such a government.

"If the prime minister-designate excludes the Heart of Tunisia party, the government will not... gain the confidence of parliament," said Rached Ghannouchi, who is also the speaker of parliament.

"Ennahda wants a unity government that does not exclude any party because the next government needs wide partisan support to implement urgent reforms," he said.

Ennahda has been the most consistently powerful force in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, playing a major part in successive governments and coming first in several elections.

However, its vote share and number of seats declined in the October election and its efforts to shape a new governing coalition came to nothing last month.

Fakhfakh, a former finance minister, was nominated by Tunisia's president, Kais Saied, an independent.

Ghannouchi said on Wednesday the choice of Fakhfakh was not the best. He also criticized the president for not taking part in a conference in Berlin on Libya's future or in the annual gathering of global business leaders in Davos.

Analysts said the comments suggest Ennahda fears that Saied will replace the party as the most influential actor in Tunisian politics. Saied won last year's presidential election with a low-key campaign that stressed his personal integrity at a time of public anger over perceived corruption among politicians.

If Fakhfakh is unable to forge a new government, Tunisia will have to hold another parliamentary election, further delaying efforts to tackle the country's economic problems.

Unemployment stands at more than 15% nationally, and is as high as 30% in some cities, while inflation is high, the currency is weak and successive governments have struggled to rein in high fiscal deficits and control the public debt.