News Column

Tunisia's New Gov't Gives Top Jobs to Independents

March 8, 2013

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh on Friday unveiled a new government to lead the country out of the month-long crisis caused by the assassination of a senior opposition politician.

The cabinet, which Larayedh presented to President Moncef Marzouki, was agreed to by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the two secular parties with which it has governed since December 2011.

Several outgoing ministers kept their posts but, in a significant concession, Ennahda yielded control of the key interior, justice, and foreign ministries to independents.

Larayedh, who was interior minister in the previous administration, told reporters he wanted to get down to work as soon as possible.

"Our country needs work and discipline. We need national unity," he said.

The appointment of independents to what Tunisians call the "sovereignty ministries" was a key demand of Ennahda's coalition partners and the opposition.

Lotfi Ben Jeddou, a respected investigating magistrate, was named interior minister; Nadhir Ben Ammou, a university professor, was appointed justice minister; and Othman Jarandi, a former ambassador to the United Nations, was put in charge of foreign affairs. The remaining ministries were divided between the three coalition partners, with Ennahda receiving the lion's share.

The new team, which must be approved by the country's Constituent Assembly, faces an uphill battle to mend the deep divisions between religious and secular Tunisians caused by the murder of Chokri Belaid.

The lawyer and coordinator of the leftist Popular Front coalition, who defended the separation of religion and state, was shot dead outside his home on February 6 by an unknown gunman.

His death, which the opposition blamed on Ennahda, thrust the home of the Arab Spring into its deepest crisis since the revolution that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Tunisia's economy, meanwhile, has yet to recover from the revolution, which has scared away tourists and foreign investors.

To ease tensions, former prime minister Hamadi Jebali had offered to form a completely non-partisan government to govern until elections later this year.

But Ennahda, which won the country's first free elections in October 2011, rebuffed the proposal, leading Jebali to resign.

Larayedh, whom Ennahda appointed in his stead, also struggled to reconcile his party's claim to power with the demands of the opposition for a more inclusive government.

The new administration is not as representative as had been hoped.

Three parties pulled out of the negotiations, leaving Ennahda with the two parties with which it was already in coalition - President Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and the Ettakatol party of Constituent Assembly president Mustapha Ben Jaafar.

Between them the three partners have a large majority in the Constituent Assembly.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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