Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda to pick hardliner for PM
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - 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 said 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 February 6 plunged Tunisia into its worst political crisis in the two years since a revolt toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and 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.
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. Continued...