Political deadlock continues in Tunisia

Ahmed Mestiri: too old for the job?

Twelve hours of talks in Tunisia on Saturday failed to deliver the promised announcement of a new prime minister. The negotiations, which are part of a roadmap aimed at resolving the country's political crisis, will now be extended until Monday, according to Tunisia Live.

Under the roadmap, Tunisia's Islamist-led government is due to hand power to a technocratic caretaker administration. The plan also requires the draft of a new constitution to be finalised and approved by the Constituent Assembly, with parliamentary and presidential elections to follow.

Political tensions came to a head in July with a general strike organised by the UGTT, Tunisia's biggest trade union, following the assassination on Mohamed Brahmi – the second opposition politician to be killed in the space of six months. 

The assassination questions about whether the transitional government, a coalition headed by the Islamist Ennahda party, could survive. Although the Ennahda party was quick to condemn Brahmi's killing, many Tunisians held the government partly responsible. 

Brahmi's death also fuelled anti-Islamist sentiment, leading to the mergence of a Tamarod movement modelled on that in Egypt. The Tunisian roadmap, agreed early last month, was widely hailed at the time as a preferably alternative to the military takeover that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

At Saturday's meeting, according to Tunisia Live, there are no consensus among political parties and civil society leaders over who should be appointed as prime minister.

Ennahda is said to favour Ahmed Mestiri on the grounds that he is "equally distant from everyone". He served in government under the late President Bourguiba but severed relations with President Ben Ali in 1989 (see profile).

The main problem with Mestiri, though, is his age. He is 88 and there are doubts (at least among the opposition) as to whether he is physically up to the job. The other leading contender, Mohamed Ennaceur – supported by the opposition – is only slightly more youthful at 79.

Tunisia Live has a list of several others who might be in the running, but some of them have already said they don't want the job.

Meeting to choose the new prime minister. Photo:UGTT

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Sunday, 3 November 2013