January 5, 2015 / 9:29 AM / in 4 years

Former interior minister nominated as Tunisian premier

TUNIS (Reuters) - A U.S.-educated former interior minister was nominated on Monday to form Tunisia’s next government following an agreement among most political parties in the newly elected parliament.

The nominee, Habib Essid, worked in the government of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali but also served as interior minister after the 2011 revolution that ended Ben Ali’s one-party rule and forced him into exile.

Essid’s nomination as prime minister follows the election of Beji Caid Essebsi, also a former official under Ben Ali, as president.

Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party holds the largest number of seats in the new parliament after beating the main Islamist party.

“We have chosen Essid because he is independent and has experience in the areas of security and the economy,” congress speaker Mohamed Nacer told reporters outside the congressional palace.

Essid will assemble a government that must then be approved by parliament. It must tackle the threat of Islamist militants and implement much-needed economic and fiscal reforms.

Tunisia’s transition to democracy, including a new constitution and free elections, has been touted as a model for the Arab world. The North African state has largely avoided the political strife faced by other Arab Spring nations.

Essid, an agricultural economist, joins other former officials making a comeback through the ballot box since October’s parliamentary election and December’s presidential run-off that marked the final steps to full democracy.

Critics worry that their return is a setback for the 2011 revolution. However, President Essebsi promises to govern for all Tunisians and says he has the technocrat background to manage the country’s security and economic challenges.

The Islamist party Ennahda, which won Tunisia’s first election after the 2011 revolution and now holds the second highest number of seats in parliament, has responded positively to the new premier, party spokesman Zied Ladhari said.

But the leftist Popular Front, which holds another large block of seats, reacted less warmly to the appointment of another former official from the Ben Ali era.

“It is a negative message for the people who wanted to really make a break from the old regime,” party leader Hamma Hammami told reporters.

Additional reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Patrick Markey, Editing by Gareth Jones

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