Tunisian PM Jebali Resigns: a Case of "Should I Stay or Should I Go."
The North Africa Journal | By Arezki Daoud | Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali is calling it quit. Having failed to form a neutral technocratic cabinet as he promised following the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, Jebali decide to resign on Tuesday this week. Is he really completely out of the picture or repositioning himself to put pressure on his Islamist party Ennahda?
The resignation of Jebali came as his own political party Ennahda, headed by Rached Ghannouchi refused to accept the formation of a new government on the basis that Tunisian voters were the ones who decided the political constitution of the current system. Unfortunately Ennahda itself has been the target of accusations that its extreme elements are behind the escalation of the crisis in Tunisia and the rise of violence there. Tuesday afternoon, he handed over his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki.
In all, Jebali held the position of Prime Minister for a year and two months, but will remain there as a temporary caretaker until a new PM is announced. Addressing those who will chose his replacement, Jebali warns that restoring in government will inevitably require greater compromises among the competing political parties, a signal that he sent to his Islamist colleagues at Ennahda. He acknowledged that the Tunisian people "are disappointed at the political class" and that only a non-political government would be the best approach to exiting the crisis. Seeking to reassure the publis, he adding "my failure is by no mean the failure of Tunisia or the failure of its revolution."
For Jebali there are urgent actions to take, starting with agreeing on a date for fresh elections. And then there is also the urgency of establishing a consensus on a new constitution, which without it would make future elections useless. Although Jebali could very well be recalled as PM even after he leaves office, there are names of replacements that are already circulating, including current health minister Abdelatif Mekki and Justice minister Noureddine Bhiri.
Yet, Jebali has a second chance of returning if one believes statements made by the Ennahda party leader in the interim parliament Sabhi Attig. Mr. Attig warned that Jebali's return to office is a possibility. While remaining cautious, Jebali did not fully throw out the idea of his return, but he hinted of his willingness to consider it, if and only if a precise election calendar is put in place.
While For now, the Islamists of Ennahda are associated to secular party of interim President Marzouki, and center-left part Ettakatol, relations have been extremely strained among these parties and holding a coalition has been a difficult task. So much so that Ennahda is seeking to expand the governing coalition in an effort to deflate any potential power its current partners may have.
Also, as the idea of forming a technocratic government failed, a new one emerged that would feature a hybrid model of a technocratic and political cabinet. The constitution of such government remains the subject of disagreements among the various political factions that influence the process. The secular opposition insists that key ministries that have an impact on national sovereignty such as the Interior and Justice should be the domain of technocrats and not militant politicians that could sway them ideologically. In contrast, many key officials in the Ennahda party do not see it this way, a situation that risk to prolong the stalemate a bit longer. And given the political arrangements decided after the ousting of dictator Ben Ali, Ennahda maintains a substantial control over the political process. Any candidate for the job of Prime Minister has to be vetted and endorsed by Ennahda, which controls 89 of the 217 seats in the national assembly. The PM is to be named by the interim President Moncef Marzouki and will have two weeks to form a cabinet. He will be on the job only after 109 members of parliament accept his candidacy and cabinet. Given that Ennahda has only 89 seats, it will have to resort to forming a governing coalition to get to the 109 OKs and to form a government.