Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki's secular party said on Monday that it would stay in the coalition government, pending the resignation of key ministers from the ruling Islamist party.
“We have decided to freeze our decision to withdraw our ministers from the government, but if in one week we don't see any changes, we will quit the government,” said the party chief of the Congress for the Republic, Mohamed Abbou.
He stressed that the CPR opposed the formation of a government of technocrats announced by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, whose Islamist Ennahda party has already opposed the plan.
Jebali’s gamble on forming a new cabinet of technocrats in defiance of his Islamist party after the murder of an opposition leader has left Tunisia in political limbo.
The killing on Wednesday of Chokri Belaid, a leftist politician and fierce critic of the Islamist 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 Islamists 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 center-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.”
Since Wednesday, Tunisia has seen street clashes between police and opposition supporters and attacks on Ennahda offices, while Belaid’s funeral on Friday turned into a massive anti-Islamist rally, believed to be the largest since the revolution.
“The people want to protect the legitimacy of the ballot,” pro-Ennahda protesters shouted on Saturday on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 uprising that ousted ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Belaid, who accused the ruling Islamist party of stealing the revolution, was gunned down outside his home. His supporters and family openly blamed Ennahda for eliminating him -- a charge it has flatly denied.
The killing has en-flamed tensions between liberals and Islamists, simmering for months over the future direction of the once proudly secular Muslim nation, and stoked by a controversial pro-Ennahda militia blamed for attacks on secular opposition groups.
Divisions in the national assembly have also blocked progress on the drafting of a new constitution.