Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party has become the largest group in parliament after 22 lawmakers who quit the secular Nidaa Tounes party submitted a request Tuesday to form a new bloc.
Parliament vice president Faouzia Ben Fodha told the house of representatives that “a new bloc, called Al-Horra (The Free) has been created” and comprises 22 members.
All are former members of Nidaa Tounes, the party founded by President Beji Caid Essebsi, and have resigned amid infighting over the party succession, according to Bochra Belhaj Hmida.
A former Nidaa Tounes member herself, Hmida said however that she has not joined Al-Horra.
Nidaa Tounes had already been weakened by the departure of Essebsi, in line with the constitution after he was elected president in December 2014.
For months the party had been riven by bad blood between its secretary general Mohsen Marzouk and the president’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, in what insiders said was a battle for succession.
Marzouk supporters have accused the president’s son of trying to seize control of the party.
The crisis came to a head at the end of October after accusations that Essebsi supporters wielding sticks had blocked rival party members from a meeting of its executive committee.
With the departure of 22 deputies, the Nidaa Tounes bloc has shrunk to 64 lawmakers, making the moderate Islamic Ennahda the largest party with 69 deputies.
Most of Al-Horra’s members back Marzouk, who also quit Nidaa Tounes and is expected to announce the creation of a new political party in March.
Former president Moncef Marzouki also applied in December to form a new party, citing a “catastrophic” situation in Tunisia, birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions that have toppled several autocratic regimes in the region.
Al-Horra’s formation comes as Tunisia was hit this month with a wave of protests against poverty and unemployment in the worst social unrest since the 2011 revolution.
Prime Minister Habib Essid, who reshuffled his cabinet on January 6 as the country grapples with a growing jihadist threat and a feeble economy, is expected to address parliament on Wednesday to discuss the latest social unrest.