Tunisia PM-designate fails to form new cabinet in absence of ‘consensus’

‘I may be asked again, or it could be somebody else’

Tunisia's technocrat Prime Minister-designate failed Saturday to form a caretaker cabinet meant to steer the country to fresh polls, on the eve of a vote set to pass a much-delayed new constitution.
Mehdi Jomaa had been expected to submit his line-up to President Moncef Marzouki Saturday afternoon but gave a press conference shortly after midnight to say he would not.
"I chose not to do it in order for a consensus to be reached," he said. "I may be asked again (to form a new cabinet), or it could be somebody else."
Jomaa, the industry minister in the outgoing government, was chosen in December to lead a cabinet tasked with overseeing fresh elections and ending the political crisis.
He was officially designated as the new premier on January 10 and had a two-week deadline that expired at midnight.
"For my part, my line-up is ready, it includes ministers of great quality but the security, social and economic situation make consensus a necessity," he said.
Several Tunisian media outlets said the main sticking point in the negotiations for a new government was the identity of the interior minister.
Some opposition groups want the current minister, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, removed because he served in the government led by the Islamist party Ennahda, which has the largest bloc in parliament.
But others, not only Ennahda supporters, argue that a volatile security situation across the North African country means that continuity is needed at the interior ministry.
"We aren't far from a solution, talks will continue," Jomaa said.
The current law states that the president needs to undertake fresh consultations with MPs and parties to decide who is most likely to form a new government.
Tunisia has been in the throes of a deep political crisis since the assassination last year of two opposition MPs by suspected jihadists.
The latest political setback came after lawmakers agreed on a new constitution that had been in the works for two years and was to be put to a final vote on Sunday.
MPs completed their line-by-line review of the text on Thursday after three weeks of intense discussion and disagreement on a range of subjects.
The charter now needs the approval of two-thirds of the 217 assembly members to pass.
Ennahda's veteran leader Rachid Ghannouchi hailed the draft charter as a "historic achievement" which he said would enable the establishment of the first democracy in the Arab world.
Under the new constitution, executive power is divided between the prime minister, who will have the dominant role, and the president, who retains important prerogatives notably in defence and foreign affairs.
Islam is not mentioned as a source of legislation, although it is recognised as the nation's religion and the state is committed to "prohibiting any attacks on the sacred," while freedom of conscience is guaranteed.
Approval of the constitution is seen as a key step in Tunisia's political transition, more than three years after long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted by the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring.
The vote, initially announced for Saturday, was pushed back until Sunday to allow lawmakers to reform the rules of the confidence vote.
This should make it harder for the assembly to dismiss the new government, to which the ruling Ennahda agreed to hand power under a deal to end the months-old political deadlock.