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New 'Long Live Tunisia' political party is born, to be led by premier Chahed

Since 2011 Arab Spring, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia's economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment
UGTT leader gestures to crowd during general strike in Tunis earlier this month (AFP)

Secular government leaders on Sunday announced the formation of a new political party called Long Live Tunisia, which will be led by the prime minister and compete with moderate Islamists in forthcoming elections.

Though the premier, Youssef Chahed, was not present, thousands of supporters gathered in the coastal city of Monastir to celebrate the birth of Tahya Tounes, the party's Arabic name, Reuters said.

The North African country has been hailed as the Arab Spring's only democratic success because protests toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 without triggering the kind of violent upheavals seen in Syria and Libya.

Still, nine cabinets since then have failed to resolve Tunisia's economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment. Impatience is rising among lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, who have kept the country afloat.

According to most ordinary Tunisians and experts alike, the main culprits are the country’s corrupt and squabbling politicians and an oligarchic business elite - about 22 families allegedly monopolise the country’s wealth - who are loath to relinquish their privileges, Al-Monitor's website said.

Remnants of Tunisia’s pre-revolutionary deep state, a murky constellation of bureaucrats and members of the security services, among others, are said to be determinedly torpedoing attempts at reform, Al-Monitor said.

Chahed’s implementation of an IMF deal over the past two years has required a set of tough austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies, reducing the public sector wage bill and increasing taxes.

The reforms have been opposed by the powerful workers union, UGTT, whose 670,000 members constitute almost 5 percent of Tunisia’s population and who were hard hit by the reforms.

Earlier this month, the UGTT held a one-day strike in protest at the government’s failure to raise public sector workers’ salaries.

The new movement, meanwhile, was formed after months of wrangling within the ruling coalition party Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia's Call), resulting in the resignation of dozens of leaders.

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The fragile coalition, which also includes the moderate Islamist party Ennahda (Renaissance), is struggling to pass the economic reforms demanded by foreign lenders.

"Our goal will be to have a strong party that will lead economic reforms and return hope for frustrated Tunisians," Zohra Idriss, a lawmaker and member of the new party, told Reuters by telephone from Monastir.

"We seek to lead the nation and compete with the Islamists ... Chahed will be the leader."

Elections are due by the end of this year, with Ennahda, Tunisia's largest party, the favourite to win, according to polls.

The opposition said the prime minister, a 43-year-old technocrat in office since 2016, has neglected Tunisia's problems to concentrate on his political future.

"For months, Chahed has focused on establishing this party and not saving the national country economy," said Zouhair Magzaoui, head of Harakat Achaab (People's Party).