Tunisian PM quits after failing to form new cabinet

February 20, 2013 - 4:51:21 am

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali (centre) arrives in Carthage Palace in Tunis to submit his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki, yesterday.

TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned yesterday after his attempt to end a political stand-off by forming a government of technocrats failed. 

“I vowed that if my initiative did not succeed, I would resign and ... I have already done so,” Jebali told a news conference after meeting with President Moncef Marzouki. 

Jebali had proposed the cabinet of apolitical technocrats to quell turmoil caused by the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid on February 6. Belaid’s death touched off mass protests targeting in part the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda to which Jebali belongs. 

No one claimed responsibility for the killing, but it deepened the misgivings of secularists who believe Jebali’s government has failed to deal firmly enough with religious extremists threatening the country’s stability. 

The crisis has disrupted efforts to revitalise an economy hit hard by the disorder that followed the overthrow of veteran strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. 

Jebali proposed forming a cabinet of apolitical technocrats to restore calm and take Tunisia to elections, but did not consult his own party or its secular coalition partners. He threatened to quit if the proposal failed. But his party scuppered the plan by rejecting the idea of a technocratic government. 

Announcing his resignation, Jebali said he would not lead another government without assurances on the timing of fresh elections and a new constitution. 

But on Monday he insisted that despite its failure, his initiative had at least succeeded in “getting everyone around a table” and in preventing Tunisia “from falling into the unknown.”

His plans had been bitterly opposed by Ennahda hardliners, represented by the Islamist party’s veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi, who are refusing to give up key portfolios and insist on Ennahda’s electoral legitimacy.

The Islamists control the interior, foreign and justice ministries and dominate the national assembly, where they hold 89 of 271 seats.

Ghannouchi said the representatives of some 15 parties had agreed at Monday’s meeting on the need for a government with “political competences” and tasked with holding elections as soon as possible. “We in Ennahda want to ensure that Jebali continues to chair (the cabinet), and so do all those who took part in this meeting,” he said.