Tunisian parties in deadlock over PM

November 03, 2013 - 4:13:07 am

TUNIS: Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition were deadlocked in talks yesterday to choose a new prime minister tasked with steering the country out of a months-long political crisis.

After an unsuccessful meeting in the morning, the parties sat down again at around 1630 GMT to carry on with the discussions.

“We have not reached a consensus yet but we are on the way,” senior Ennahda official Ameur Larayedh told reporters.

Tensions have gripped Tunisia since the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and were exacerbated with the murder this year of two opposition politicians by suspected Islamist radicals.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party whose resignation has been demanded by the opposition, has pledged to step down and allow the creation of a government of independents as part of a roadmap.

The Islamist-led government opened talks with the opposition on October 25 to form the new government, agree on a much-delayed constitution and prepare for elections.

The road map to resolve the crisis was drafted by mediators including the powerful UGTT trade union, which announced the latest setback.

It said a meeting on Friday of party leaders to chose a new premier bogged down in disagreement over four candidates.

The delegates agreed to set up a new committee tasked with overcoming the stalemate, the UGTT said in a statement overnight.

The committee comprising the head of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi and five opposition figures met yesterday morning with UGTT secretary general Housine Abassi.

Ennahda and its opponents disagree on the frontrunners to become prime minister — Mohamed Ennaceur, 79, and Ahmed Mestiri, 88, two veteran politicians and former ministers.

Both are well respected and served under the late Habib Bourguiba, who led the fight for Tunisia’s independence from its French colonial masters and served as its first president (1957-1987).

Press reports said Ennahda and its secular coalition partner were backing Mestiri, while the opposition was in favour of Ennaceur.

But Bourad Amdouni, a representative for a coalition of leftist parties, said Mestiri, who held several key portfolios in successive governments under Bourguiba, “is not (physically) up to fulfilling the mission of prime minister.”