Tunisia’s governing Islamists and an opposition coalition have suspended talks, after failing to agree on a prime minister. The parties are trying to build a non-partisan government to pave the way for elections.
After delaying the deadline twice, the governing Ennahda party and the opposition National Salvation proved unable to bridge their differences and select an interim prime minister on Monday, leaving Tunisia’s roadmap for a political transition in a state of limbo.
“They were unable to reach a consensus over the prime minister,” said Hussein Abassi, leader of the powerful UGTT union. “The dialogue has been suspended until there is solid ground for negotiations.”
The National Salvation Front rejected Ennahda’s candidate, 88-year-old Ahmed Mestiri, due to his advanced age. Opposition members expressed concern that Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, would exercise too much influence over Mestiri.
“Ennahda wants to leave by the door and come back in through the window,” said Hamma Hammami, an opposition party leader.
The National Salvation Front offered to drop its candidate – 79-year-old Mohamed Ennaceur – and propose other names, according to opposition figure Mourad Amdouni. But Ennahda and its coalition partner, Ettakatol, rejected the alternative candidates.
“We have no one else to propose,” Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi said before the start of Monday’s negotiations, digging in behind Mestiri’s candidacy.
Roadmap out of political crisis
Tunisia is in the midst of a political transition, after the assassinations of two secular opposition figures plunged the North African nation into crisis. Chokri Belaid was shot dead outside of his home in February, and Mohammed Brahmi died under similar circumstances in July. The government blames radical Islamists, allegedly connected to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), for the shootings.
The assassinations sparked opposition protests, which ultimately forced the Islamist-led government to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has agreed to step down later this month, once an interim government of independents has been formed and a date for new elections has been set. Work also has to be finished on a new constitution.
Tunisia has been in a state of turmoil since a popular uprising overthrew long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. That uprising inspired the so-called “Arab Spring,” which toppled leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
slk/jr (AFP, Reuters)