It’s only natural for us to lead Tunisia, says Ennahda

Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it will form a new government within a month, as early results give it a commanding lead in the Arab Spring’s first free election.

Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party said on Wednesday it would form a new government within a month, as early results gave it a commanding lead in the Arab Spring’s first free election.

The party had started coalition talks, said its leader Rached Ghannouchi, adding Ennahda’s commanding lead made it the “natural” choice to lead the new executive.

“It is natural that the party which obtained the majority heads the government,” Ghannouchi said in a radio interview, with final results in Sunday’s historic vote yet to be released.

The party did not appear headed for an outright majority, hailing complicated coalition negotiations with all of Ennahda’s possible partners on the leftist, liberal side of the political spectrum.

“The government will be put together as soon as possible, within no more than a month,” Ghannouchi said.

An early tally on Tuesday showed Ennahda with 28 of the 55 seats in nine domestic polling districts counted so far, including the key cities of Sousse and Sfax, for a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a caretaker government.

Results released on Monday showed Ennahda taking half of the 18 seats reserved for expatriate assembly representatives in an early vote held abroad last week.

This meant Ennahda had 37 of the 73 seats accounted for so far.

Asked about the identity of the interim president, Ghannouchi said: “It will be a person who had militated against the dictatorship. Nothing has been decided yet. Discussions are continuing.”

Massive numbers of voters turned out Sunday for Tunisia’s first elections since the ouster of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a popular uprising in January.

ISIE secretary general Boubaker Bethabet said Tuesday the results would be published piecemeal, explaining: “The mechanisms of counting demand time”.

The interim results gave a joint second place to the leftist Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Petition for Justice and Development — a grouping backed by London-based millionaire businessman Hachmi Haamdi with close ties to Ben Ali.

The leftist Ettakatol came third, prompting its leader Mustapha Ben Jafaar Tuesday to proclaim himself willing to “assume the highest responsibility” in an interim executive.

Ben Jafaar told AFP that coalition discussions with Ennahda had started for the new assembly, which will also have interim authority to write laws and pass budgets.

A broad-based executive was required, he added, to avoid “polarisation between Islamists and modernists”.

The new assembly will decide on the country’s system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women’s rights, which many in Tunisia fear Ennahda would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.

Analysts say that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance, would be unable to “dictate” its programme to the assembly, having no choice but to appease its alliance partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily.

Leftist parties may yet seek to form a majority bloc against Ennahda.

Ennahda says it models itself on the ruling AKP party in Turkey, another Muslim-majority country which, like Tunisia to date, is a secular state.

But its critics accuse the party of being moderate in public and radical in the mosques.

Even before the official results are known, Ennahda has sought to reassure investors of stability, and women that it will respect their equality, and said Monday it was open to a coalition with any party “without exception”.

The electoral system was designed to include as many parties as possible in drafting the new constitution, expected to take a year, ahead of fresh national polls. — AFP

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Mariette Le Roux
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