Tunisia in crisis with secular ministers poised to quit
TUNIS (AFP) – The secular party of President Moncef Marzouki was poised to pull out of Tunisia’s Conservative-led government Monday, threatening to plunge the country deeper into a political crisis sparked by the killing of a leftwing politician.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s gamble on forming a new cabinet of technocrats in defiance of his Conservative party after the murder of an opposition leader has left Tunisia in political limbo, with possible resignations from the government.
“Tunisians hold their breath, with their eyes fixed on Hamadi Jebali, who on Monday begins a long week,” said the website of the newspaper Leaders.
“Will the great task succeed that he has set for himself, for his own Ennahda party, his two other partners (in Tunisia’s ruling coalition) the CPR and Ettakatol and the whole political class?” the paper asked.
The ministers of Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic (CPR) are on the verge of pulling out of the cabinet because their demands that two Conservative ministers should be replaced had not been met, according to a party leader, Chokri Yacoub, quoted by the official TAP news agency.
Another senior member, Tunisia’s secretary of state for foreign affairs Hedi Ben Abbes, told AFP a decision would be announced on Monday on the possible resignation of the CPR’s three ministers and two secretaries of state.
A source close to the president said last-minute talks were underway between Ennahda and the CPR, adding that a compromise was possible.
The killing on Wednesday of Chokri Belaid, a leftist politician and fierce critic of the Conservative party, triggered three days of violent protests and prompted the prime minister to announce that he would form new a non-partisan government of technocrats.
One policeman was killed and 59 colleagues wounded in the unrest, according to the interior ministry.
Jebali, a moderate within his Ennahda party, on Saturday threatened to quit and warned of chaos unless the interior, justice and foreign ministries held by fellow Conservatives go to independents in the administration.
He set a target date of the middle of this week for the shake-up, which appeared to have the support of Ennahda’s centre-left allies as well as the secular opposition. But the plan has laid bare divisions within Ennahda’s ranks.
Party hardliners are refusing to give up the key portfolios, and have warned that they will take to the streets of the capital, as they did in on Saturday, to insist on Ennahda’s right to govern following its October 2011 election triumph.
“The legitimacy crisis of the current regime continues to worsen,” said Tunisia’s French-language daily La Presse.
It praised Jebali’s plan to form a government of technocrats, but said it was “only useful if it included a broad section of the political landscape”.
Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi has played down the party crisis.
“There will be no division within Ennahda which is committed to its institutions,” he said in an interview published in the Algerian daily El Khabar.
“The party is very strict when it comes down to its unity. Differences in opinion exist within the party and are freely expressed. That’s why I think Ennahda is not under threat.”