Tunisia premier in talks after parties reject cabinet

SHAFAQNA – Tunisian Prime Minister-designate Habib Essid began new negotiations over his cabinet on Monday after most political parties said they would oppose his initial choice of ministers in a parliamentary vote.

Rejection by parliament would mean newly-installed President Beji Caid Essebsi would have to appoint a new premier to try to form another cabinet.

Tunisia’s politics have been dominated by negotiations and compromise deals between secular and Islamist leaders after the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and brought free elections and a new constitution.

As such, it has been held up as a model for democratic change in a region beset by chaos and violence.

The secular party Nidaa Tounes won October legislative elections and will need strong backing in parliament as it prepares to crack down on Islamist militants and make sensitive cuts in public spending demanded by international lenders.

Essid on Monday held talks with the Islamist party Ennahda, leftist party Popular Front and smaller partner Afek Tounes after all three groups rejected his original cabinet proposal where none of their political delegates were given posts.

“The discussions have begun with Essid and one hopes those discussions will lead to more consensus,” Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi told reporters.

Essid last week selected ministers from Nidaa Tounes, the leading party in parliament, independents and smaller partners before a vote to ratify his government on Tuesday. That vote has been delayed to give time for more talks.

In the 217-seat parliament, Nidaa Tounes holds 86 seats and has backing from the liberal, secular UPL party, which has 16 seats. Ennahda holds 69 seats, the Popular Front 15 and Afek Tounes eight.

Without support from other parties or defections, Essid would fall short of the 109-seat majority needed to ratify his government.

Delegates from Afek Tounes, who are nominal allies to Nidaa Tounes, had walked out of cabinet negotiations last week. But they also said they would enter new talks.

Ennahda, which governed in the first Islamist-led government after the 2011 uprising, had said it was open to a unity government with Nidaa Tounes to improve stability.

Nidaa Tounes itself is an coalition of former Ben Ali officials, leftists and independents. But its hardliners were opposed to joining with Ennahda, which they blame for unrest when the Islamists were in government.



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