TUNIS: Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned Tuesday after failing to form a nonpartisan government to end a political crisis exacerbated by the assassination of a senior opposition figure.
The resignation is expected to further deepen the country’s political crisis, which also prompted an international ratings agency to downgrade the government’s credit rating Tuesday.
Jebali, who had warned of chaos if his plan fell through, made a last-ditch effort to push for “another solution” to the long-running crisis in a meeting with President Moncef Marzouki.
“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 on television.
The resignation came the same day that international ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Tunisian government’s credit rating over political instability, a blow to the North African nation’s already-struggling economy.
Jebali, whose efforts to form a government of technocrats was rebuffed Monday by his own ruling Islamist party Ennahda, said that he was standing down to “fulfill a promise made to the people.”
“This is a big disappointment,” Jebali said. “Our people are disillusioned by the political class. We must restore confidence.
“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 longtime dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The 63-year-old said he was convinced a nonpolitical team “is the best way to save the country from wandering off track.”
While other candidates might emerge to fill the job, it is possible Marzouki will ask Jebali to try again. But Jebali said he would not sign on again with “any initiative that does not fix a date for new elections. What about the constitution? What about elections?”
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.
The prospect of Jebali carrying on is “on the table, but we still have to discuss it, and there are several competent people in the event he refuses,” said Ennahda parliamentary bloc chief Sahbi Attig.
Names being mentioned are those of Health Minister Abdelatif Mekki and Justice Minister Moureddine Bhiri.
Ennhada leader Rached Ghannouchi said on Facebook that he would meet Marzouki Wednesday to discuss the party’s candidate for the job.
Jebali was left out on a limb Monday after Ennahda rejected his proposals for a nonpartisan government.
He first floated his initiative in the wake of public outrage over the killing in broad daylight of outspoken government critic Chokri Belaid by a gunman outside his Tunis home on Feb. 6.
That 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.
Since the revolution, Tunisia has also been rocked by violence.