Jebali resigns as Ennahda buries non-partisan cabinet in its cradle

Political deadlock leaves Tunisia paralysed

TUNIS - Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said on Tuesday that he has submitted his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki, after failing to form a new government aimed at ending a political crisis.
"I promised and assured that, in the event that my initiative failed, I would resign as head of the government, and that is what I have done," Jebali said in remarks broadcast on television after meeting Marzouki.
Jebali, whose efforts to form a government of technocrats was rebuffed on Monday by his own Ennahda party, said he was standing down to "fulfill a promise made to the people."
"This is a big disappointment," he said. "Our people are disillusioned by the political class. We must restore confidence."
Jebali said he had called on his cabinet to continue to do the "utmost to ensure that the state continues to function."
"The failure of my initiative does not mean the failure of Tunisia or the failure of the revolution," he added, referring to the country's uprising two years ago to oust a long-time dictator.
He said he was convinced that a non-political team "is the best way to save the country from wandering off track."
He also said it was urgently necessary to set a date for future elections.
The premier was left out on a limb on Monday after Ennahda rejected his proposals for a non-partisan government, exacerbating Tunisia's biggest political crisis since the uprising two years ago.
"I will go (Tuesday) to the president to discuss the next stages, but I noted progress during the political discussions in terms of seeking a consensus around another solution," Jabali said Monday.
The new formula should emerge "in the coming days," he added after meeting political leaders.
Jebali first floated his initiative in the wake of public outrage over the killing in broad daylight of outspoken government critic Chokri Belaid by a lone gunman outside his Tunis home on February 6.
The murder enflamed simmering tensions between liberals and Islamists in the once proudly secular Muslim nation, with Belaid's family accusing Ennahda of his assassination, a charge the Islamists strongly deny.
For months, the ruling coalition has failed to overhaul the government, laying bare divisions within Ennahda.
Jebali admitted defeat in his plan, which he had hoped would be able to overcome the political divisions that have been blamed for igniting Salafist-led violence across the country in recent months.
But he said "another form of government" was still a possibility.
And he insisted that, despite its failure, his initiative had at least succeeded in "getting everyone around a table" and in preventing Tunisia "from falling into the unknown."
His plans had been bitterly opposed by Ennahda hardliners, represented by the veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, who are refusing to give up key portfolios and insist on Ennahda's electoral legitimacy.
The Islamists control the interior, foreign and justice ministries and dominate the national assembly.
Ghannouchi said the representatives of some 15 parties had agreed on Monday on the need for a government with "political competences" and tasked with holding elections as soon as possible.
"We in Ennahda want to ensure that Jebali continues to chair (the cabinet), and so do all those who took part in this meeting," he said.
Aziz Kirchen, representing Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR), said an agreement had been reached for "the formation of a mixed government" of politicians and technocrats, but without giving details.
The political deadlock has left the country paralysed.
"Everything has stopped. The problem is that nobody thinks about the general interest but only of their special interests," a government official said.
As well as the row over the new government, there is deadlock over the drafting of a constitution, with parliament divided over the nature of Tunisia's future political system 15 months after it was elected.
Since the revolution that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has also been rocked by violence blamed on radical Salafists, and ongoing social unrest over the government's failure to improve poor living conditions.