Armed with concealed intentions, Ennahda accepts resignation of Islamist-led government
TUNIS – Tunisia's opposition coalition agreed on Friday to start direct talks with ruling Islamists on a transition plan under which the government would step down and make way for a caretaker administration and new elections.
Ennahda had already accepted the negotiation plan after expressing some initial reservations it said would be discussed during talks.
"Ennahda announces after examining the proposal... its acceptance and demands that a serious national dialogue is launched to get the country out of the political crisis," the party said in a statement.
Observers believe Ennahda is delaying its exit from power after it exceeded the specified date of nearly a year. They also doubt that the coming elections will be fair after the Islamist party have appointed a large number of loyalists as governors.
The agreement follows weeks of unrest that erupted after the assassination of an opposition figure in July.
The opposition accused the Islamist ruling party, Ennahda, of tolerating the Islamist militants it blamed for the killing, the second in six months, and staged large protests, demanding the government step down immediately.
Issam Chebbi, a senior official in the Salvation Front, told Reuters the opposition decided to accept "without any conditions" the initiative proposed by the powerful UGTT labour movement which has been mediating in the dispute.
A formal announcement by the UGTT about the agreement is expected on Saturday. It should lead to the start of a three-week negotiation period after which the Ennahda-led government will step down.
The two sides will discuss a timetable for new elections.
The initiative, drawn up by Tunisia's powerful UGTT labour union and presented on Tuesday, envisages a tight timetable for the formation of a new cabinet, the adoption of a draft constitution and fresh elections.
Tunisia's political crisis was triggered by the July 25 assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, an attack that was blamed on militant Salafists and sparked opposition calls for the government's immediate resignation.
The roadmap, prepared along with other mediating groups, requires the two sides to meet for a national dialogue attended by President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, where the Islamist-led government will formally agree to its replacement within three weeks by a cabinet of independents.
At the same time, it requires the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to approve an electoral law and commission, draw up the timetable for the parliamentary poll and adopt a new constitution whose drafting has been blocked for months by political wrangling.
Since the start of the crisis, Tunisia has been rocked by a wave of opposition protests demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government and the dissolution of the NCA.
Ennahda refuses to resign before agreement has first been reached on outstanding political differences, including on the content of the new constitution and an election timetable.
The opposition say Ennahda has failed to rein in jihadists, whose influence has grown since the 2011 uprising that toppled the former regime, and has not improved social conditions in Tunisia.