Tunisia’s main Islamist Ennahda party will pick a hardliner to replace moderate outgoing Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali after he declined to head the next government, a party official told Reuters on Thursday.
Jebali, who is secretary-general of Ennahda, resigned on Tuesday after his plan for an apolitical technocrat cabinet to prepare for elections collapsed, largely because of opposition from within his own party and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi.
“Jebali declined to accept nomination (for next prime minister),” Ennahda said. “A new candidate will be presented to the president of the republic this week.”
The assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid on Feb.6 plunged Tunisia into its worst political crisis in the two years since a revolt toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Aliand inspired Arabs elsewhere to rebel against autocratic rulers.
The secular leftist’s killing sent protesters flooding into the streets, exposing the deep rifts between Tunisia’s empowered Islamists and their liberal and secular-minded opponents.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian authorities have arrested suspects behind Belaid’s killing, the interior minister said.
“The investigation has progressed to the point that suspects have been arrested,” Ali Larayedh told reporters, without specifying the identities or number of people detained.
Jebali had proposed forming a technocrat cabinet to replace his Ennahda-led coalition, which included two secular parties, to spare the North African nation’s nascent democracy and its struggling tourism-dependent economy from further strife.
But Ghannouchi blocked the moderate premier’s plan and a senior Ennahda official told Reuters the next prime minister would come from the party’s hardline wing, which opposes any role for politicians linked with the Ben Ali era.
The official listed outgoing Justice Minister Nourredine Bouheiri, Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki, Agriculture Minister Mohammed Ben Salem, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh and Transport Minister Abdelkarim Harouni as the possible nominees.
“Ennahda will hold a meeting tonight to choose a candidate. The next prime minister will be one of the names on this list,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
In a televised address on Thursday, Jebali apologized to the Tunisian people for “failing and disappointing” them and urged them to unite to pull the country out of crisis.
“Tunisians must be patient during the coming months,” he said. “Demands and sit-ins must stop until the revolution wins.”
But he added he was “optimistic that consensus will win and the revolution will win.”