Tunisia’s Islamists, opposition haggle over new premier


Tunisia’s ruling Islamists and opposition parties held talks on Monday to agree on a new prime minister who will lead a caretaker government, under an agreement to end months of unrest in the north African country.

Former central bank members and economists are the leading candidates for the post.

The ruling Islamist party Ennahda and secular opponents earlier this month reached a deal for the government to resign in three weeks to make way for a non-partisan administration and elections at a date to be agreed.

The deal is aimed at ending unrest after the assassination of two opposition leaders by Islamist militants earlier this year in the country which inspired the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

Tunisia, where divisions over the role of Islam in politics have grown since the 2011 revolt, has been seen as a regional model for the transition to democracy and the outcome of the talks will be widely watched by neighboring countries.

Ten key candidates are under debate by a committee made up of representatives of the government, opposition parties and two figures from non-government organizations.

Government and opposition party officials said among those most likely to be chosen were Mustafa Kamel Nabli, a former central bank governor, Mansour Moalla, a former economy minister and businessman, and Jaloul Ayed, a former finance minister.

Mohammed Nasser, a veteran politician and former U.N. official, is also widely seen as a compromise candidate with backing from Islamists and the opposition.
“The name is not the most important, the key aspect is that it is a neutral and competent candidate,” said Mohammed Taher, from the Liberty and Dignity party.

Tunisia’s path to democracy has been less chaotic than its neighbors since the Arab Spring uprisings. Egypt’s Islamist leader was forced out by the country’s military and Libya’s weak central government is unable to control rival militias.

But negotiations over the crisis were delayed for weeks by political wrangling over the terms of the talks. The deaths of nine policemen over the last week in clashes with Islamist militants also increased tensions.

Ennahda won 40 percent in the country’s first post-revolt election to select an assembly to write a new constitution. Since then the moderate Islamist party has seen its support drop, but it remains Tunisia’s best organized group.