Tunisia PM says will quit if new cabinet rejected
TUNIS (AFP) – Embattled Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he will announce a new government line-up on Saturday, in a bid to overcome Tunisia’s worst political crisis since the revolution, and threatened to quit if it is rejected.
Jebali has been pushing to form a government of technocrats in defiance of his Islamist Ennahda party since the murder last week of vocal government critic and leftist figure Chokri Belaid plunged the country into political turmoil.
“On Saturday I will announce the new government line-up and if it is rejected I will submit my resignation to the president,” Jebali told reporters on Thursday, on the sidelines of consultations with party leaders.
“Tomorrow morning (Friday) I will meet all the parties who have, or have not, accepted this initiative,” he added.
Ennahda has rejected a new government made up exclusively of technocrats, first announced in the wake of public outrage over Jebali’s assassination outside his house by a lone gunman, and called for a pro-Islamist rally on Saturday.
The Islamists have joined ranks with President Moncef Marzouki’s centre-left Congress for the Republic Party, and two other parties, in proposing that the new cabinet comprise both politicians and independents.
But Jebali on Thursday insisted that the criteria for being in the new cabinet included non-partisanship as well as a firm commitment by future ministers not to run in the next elections.
“This is the proposal I am making for the country, and the parties will be held responsible for its success or failure,” he said.
“The parties must realise that there can be no bargaining for this initiative to go through. They can, however, present their opinion which is normal in a democracy.”
Jebali has the backing of secular opposition parties and Ettakatol, a secular ally of Ennahda, headed by parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who says he is ready to hand over all ministerial positions held by his party.
Both the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers and the union of employers UTICA have also expressed support for Jebali’s initiative, seeing in it a way to emerge from the crisis.
But hardliners of Ennahda — which controls 89 of the 217 seats in the National Constituent Assembly after an October 2011 election — refuse to give up key portfolios.
There were heated exchanges on Thursday in the assembly during a debate on the issue by supporters and opponents of the proposed new administration.
Sahbi Atig, the Islamist party’s parliamentary leader, said “two catastrophes” took place on February 6 — Belaid’s murder and Jebali’s initiative.
But secular opposition leader and former premier Beji Caid Essebsi said after meeting Jebali on Thursday that there was “no alternative,” and described the prime minister as a “responsible man determined to get the country out of its crisis.”
One of Ennahda’s vice presidents, Mohamed Akrout, urged its supporters to rally on Saturday in support of the Islamists.
“Supporters of Ennahda must defend their revolution and the interests of the people,” Akrout said in a video posted on the party’s Facebook page.
The February 6 killing of Belaid has enflamed tensions between liberals and Islamists over the direction of the once proudly secular Muslim nation, with opposition protesters engaging in street clashes with police.
There is also deadlock over the drafting of the constitution, 15 months after the election of the assembly, and the country has been further destabilised by the rise of Salafists, accused of deadly attacks.
Poverty and unemployment, two key factors that led to the revolution that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, continue to grip the country.