Tunisia PM fails to get new cabinet to stem unrest

February 19, 2013 - 1:11:28 am

From left:  Tunisian Islamist Ennahda Party President Rached Ghannouchi, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Parliament Speaker Mustapha Ben Jafaar during a round of consultations with other political parties at the Prime Minister’s guesthouse in Carthage, on the outskirts of Tunis, yesterday.

TUNIS: Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said yesterday that Tunisia’s main political parties had failed to form a cabinet of technocrats after the country was thrown into turmoil by the assassination of an opposition politician.

“The initiative of a cabinet of technocrats did not receive full political consensus and failed...but work is continuing with all parties in order to form a government which has the agreement of most of the political parties,” Jebali told a news conference.

Jebali resumed talks yesterday with political leaders aimed at forming a new government of technocrats, despite a fresh rebuff from his own ruling Islamist party Ennahda.

Complicating a political crisis that has engulfed Tunisia after the February 6 assassination of a leftwing politician, media reports said the leader of President Moncef Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic (CPR) party had resigned. Jebali, who is number two in Ennahda, is seeking to forge a consensus on his controversial proposal to form a non-partisan administration, designed to avert political turmoil, and has vowed to step down if his initiative is thwarted.

Ennahda’s veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi and parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who heads the Islamists’ coalition ally Ettakatol, arrived for the meeting in a Tunis suburb shortly after 1500 GMT, along with key opposition leaders.

But the head of Marzouki’s CPR, Mohammed Abbou, was conspicuously absent amid media reports that he had resigned, and with another party official attending the talks.

Jebali came under fresh attack from his own party earlier yesterday. The consultative council of Ennahda, which dominates the national assembly in which it holds 89 of 271 seats, said his proposed government of technocrats “does not meet the needs of the present time.”

“We remain committed to the formation of a coalition government which derives its legitimacy from the October 23, 2011 elections.”Ennahda, which was repressed under ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, won the 2011 polls and controls the key foreign, interior and justice ministries in the coalition cabinet.

But it is divided between moderates, among whom Jebali is the most prominent, and hardliners, represented by Ghannouchi, who are refusing to give up the key portfolios, insisting on Ennahda’s electoral legitimacy.

Ghannouchi insisted that the premier should remain head of a coalition government of politicians and technocrats, after blasting his initiative at a large pro-Islamist rally on Saturday as a “coup against the elected government.”

“Hamadi Jebali will not resign. He will remain the head of the government and secretary general of the party,” Ennahda’s leader told Shems FM radio. Jebali first proposed his initiative in the wake of public outrage over the the murder in broad daylight of Chokri Belaid, a leftist opposition leader and fierce critic of the ruling Islamists.Agencies