Tunis - Tunisia’s moderate Islamists began work on stitching together a governing coalition - a bridge-building task made tougher after its narrow win in Sunday’s parliamentary vote laid bare the country’s political fault-lines.

Al Nahda’s took 52 seats in the 217-member parliament - and with the second-placed Heart of Tunisia party forswearing any deal with its bitter rival, it’s reaching out to smaller groups. The Dignity Coalition, which won 21 seats, said Thursday that Al Nahda has invited it to talks.

“Right now you have very sharp rhetoric coming from the Tunisian political sphere,” but it’s likely to taper down as pragmatism wins out, said H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. “Eventually they’ll have to come to some sort of arrangement.”

The fractured parliament underscored yet again Tunisians’ deep frustration with mainstream parties, just weeks after the electorate spurned some of the North African nation’s top politicians to back two outsiders for the presidency. The runoff vote between a law professor and a controversial media mogul takes place Sunday.

While Tunisia has made solid democratic gains since President Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali’s 2011 ouster, many of its 11.5 million people accuse the government of failing to improve their lives. The vital tourism industry has been battered by sporadic militant attacks, while disputes with unions are stalling the enactment of International Monetary Fund-backed economic reforms.

Valuable seats

After appeals are heard and the parliamentary results finalized, the largest party has two months to form a government. Other groups with valuable seats include the Democratic Current, which took 22, and Tahya Tounes, headed by current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, with 14.

Al Nahda, which has long been dogged by claims it plans to subvert Tunisia’s modern history of secularism, won’t be able to repeat its previous alliance with Nidaa Tounes, formerly one of the country’s leading parties. It won just three seats, down from 86 in the 2014 legislative vote.

Al Nahda has “played the last eight years very carefully” and have a realistic idea of their support base, said Hellyer. “They could have gone a lot more hardcore, one way or the other” and “lost everything entirely.”