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New parliament meets in post-revolution Tunisia

By AFP - Dec 02,2014 - Last updated at Dec 02,2014

TUNIS — Tunisia's new parliament held its inaugural session on Tuesday, a landmark in the country's often fraught transition to democracy since the 2011 revolution which sparked the Arab Spring.

Lawmakers took their seats following the first parliamentary election in the North African nation since the overthrow of long-time strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali nearly four years ago.

"Tunisia has managed to secure a peaceful power transfer in a fluid and civilised manner that will ensure the gradual introduction of democratic traditions," Mustapha Ben Jaafar, speaker of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), a transitional body, told deputies.

After the singing of the national anthem, Ben Jaafar opened the gathering of 217 members of the new parliament who were elected in October.

He then made way — in a symbolic handover and in keeping with tradition — for the oldest member of the new parliament, Ali Ben Salem, who was cheered by fellow lawmakers and the political party leaders invited to attend.

Overcome with emotion, Ben Salem wiped away tears as he presided over the session, in which deputies were to vote for a new parliamentary speaker.

The secular Nidaa Tounes Party won 86 seats in the October 26 legislative polls, beating moderate Islamist movement Ennahda into second place with 69 seats.

Under Tunisia's electoral system, the party with the largest number of votes has a mandate to form a coalition government.

Media reports have suggested a possible grand coalition between the top two parties.

Nidaa Tounes has said it will not form a government before the second round of voting in a presidential election is completed at
the end of December.

Nidaa Tounes leader Beji Caid Essebsi faces incumbent Moncef Marzouki in a runoff, after neither candidate secured an absolute majority in voting on November 23.

December 21 is "the most probable date" for the second round, according to Tunisia's electoral commission, after all judicial appeals have been examined.

Both Essebsi and Marzouki issued statements hailing the opening of parliament, although the latter was surprisingly absent.

His campaign manager said that Marzouki, who was elected president at the end of 2011 by the NCA under a coalition deal with the then-ruling Ennahda, had not been formally invited to attend.

Tunisia has avoided the bloodshed ravaging other Arab Spring states such as Libya and Yemen. But it faces significant challenges, including a jihadist threat, a weak economy and social unrest.

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