Two Tunisian Parties Withdraw From Talks on New Government

Two of the five Tunisian parties negotiating a new government withdrew from the talks, undermining the search for a unity coalition that can ease tensions.

The Wafa movement and the Freedom and Dignity bloc announced they were quitting talks in separate statements today. Wafa’s leader Abderraouf al-Ayadi cited disagreements over the new government’s program, while Freedom and Dignity’s Mohamed Tahir Ilahi said by phone that his party was being offered a “merely decorative” role.

That leaves three parties still in negotiations: the social democratic party Ettakatol, the secular Congress for the Republic, and the moderate Islamist Ennahdha of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, which holds the most seats in parliament.

Tunisian politicians are seeking to defuse tensions that heightened after the Feb. 6 assassination of opposition leader Chukri Beleid, blamed on Islamists by many Tunisians. The previous premier Hamadi Jbeli, also from Ennahdha, had promised to form a technocratic government then quit after failing to do so. Ennahdha has agreed to cede control of four key posts including the interior and finance ministries.

Tunisia’s credit rating has been cut by Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s in the past month, with both companies citing political instability and a worsening fiscal outlook. The country is seeking a $1.8 billion IMF loan and plans to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June.