Tunisian Coalition Party Delays Withdrawal From Cabinet

A secular party pivotal to Tunisia’s coalition government said it will delay plans to pull out of the Cabinet, offering a potential respite in political tensions sparked by the assassination of an opposition leader.

The Congress for the Republic, known as CPR and led by President Moncef Marzouki, said yesterday it would quit if two Islamist ministers weren’t replaced, amid anger over the Feb. 6 murder of Chukri Beleid, the secular leader of the Democratic Patriots. The CPR will quit “once and for all” if its demands aren’t addressed within a week, Secretary-General Mohammed Abou told reporters in Tunis today.

The announcement gives Prime Minister Hamadi Jbeli of the ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party more time to reach a compromise between his proposal for a new technocrat government to oversee the drafting of a constitution and elections, and other partisan calls for a unity government.

“There is to some extent a softening of the tones and positions on both sides,” said Riccardo Fabiani, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London. “It’s now time for talks and negotiations. Eventually there will be a deal, but it will probably take longer than we think.”

Abou criticized Jbeli’s plan, saying it would allow the return of figures linked to the previous regime. Ennahda also rejected the proposal, saying the premier was acting unilaterally and that it’s holding talks to expand the ruling coalition and find a way out of the crisis.

Religion’s Role

Anti-government protests and accusations by Beleid’s widow and other opposition figures that Ennahda had colluded with extremists in the assassination sparked the most unrest since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled two years ago. Ennahda denied any link to Beleid’s murder.

The Cabinet has been paralyzed for months because of disagreements among the CPR, Ennahda and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties party known as Ettakatol, the third party in the coalition government, over the place of religion in the laws of the traditionally secular nation.

Ettakatol “doesn’t oppose the decision to form an independent, unpartisan, technocrat government,” Tunis Afrique Presse reported, citing party spokesman Mohamed Bannour. “Consultations with all parties are still ongoing,” he said, according to the news agency.

Tunisia’s benchmark stock index was little changed today after tumbling 3.7 percent on Feb. 6, the biggest drop since Jan. 13, 2011, the eve of Ben Ali’s departure.

Tunisia is in talks for a $1.78 billion International Monetary Fund standby loan to help buttress an economy that grew 2.7 percent last year and may expand 3.3 percent this year, according to IMF estimates.

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