Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tunisia's New Government in Trouble

Tunisia's new government in trouble

Within a day of forming a "unity government", four ministers resign and the PM and president quit the ruling party

Last Modified: 18 Jan 2011 21:11 GMT

Protesters on Tuesday chanted: "We can live on bread and water alone but not with the RCD"

Cracks have already appeared in Tunisia's so-called "unity government", just 24 hours after it was formed in the wake of an uprising that led to the departure of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the president of 23 years.

On Tuesday, the interim prime minister and president resigned from the former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party of the deposed president in an attempt to keep the fragile coalition together.

Mohamed Ghannouchi and Fouad Mebazaa were forced into the move after four ministers refused to sit in a cabinet that contained eight high-ranking memebrs of Ben Ali's government, which many Tunisians see as corrupt.

"They do not want to be in the government with certain members of the ruling party," Al Jazeera's Nazinine Moshiri said, reporting from Tunis.

Multiple resignations

Earlier on Tuesday, Tunisia's junior minister for transportation said that he and two other ministers with ties to a labour union had resigned from the newly formed government, leaving it in a state of limbo.

Anouar Ben Gueddour said that he resigned along with Houssine Dimassi, the minister of training and employment, and Abdeljelil Bedoui, a minister dealing with prime ministerial affairs. They are all members of a general national labour union.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the newly-appointed health minister, has also resigned.

Abid al-Briki of the UGTT union said it wanted to see all ministers from Ben Ali's cabinet pushed out of the new government, but it would make an exception for the prime minister.

"This is in response to the demands of people on the streets," Briki said.

The opposition Ettajdid party will also pull out of the coalition if ministers from Ben Ali's RCD do not give up party membership and return to the state all properties they obtained through the RCD, state television said.

Ghannouchi, who has been prime minister since 1999, said that ministers from Ben Ali's party were included in the new government "because we need them in this phase".

In an interview with France's Europe-1 radio, he insisted the ministers chosen "have clean hands, in addition to great competence".

"Give us a chance so that we can put in place this ambitious programme of reform."

It was not immediately clear if the resignations could bring down the government, which has 40 full and junior ministers.

'Sham' government

The announcement of the new government was also met with anger by some of the Tunisian public.

"The new government is a sham. It's an insult to the revolution that claimed lives and blood," Ahmed al-Haji, a student, said.

Police used tear gas in an attempt to break up several hundred opposition supporters and trade union activists gathered in Tunis.

Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, told Al Jazeera that it's clear that Ghannouchi made an error in reappointing so many ministers from Ben Ali's government.

"If you see what happened on the Tunisian streets today, the people who came out rejected the idea that the same old faces are going to still run the country," Hounshell said.

"I think it remains to be seen whether this new government will even be able to stand and hold these elections in 60 days, as they're required to."

'Parasite' party

Meanwhile, Moncek Marzouki, a Tunisian political leader returned from more than 20 years of exile in France to a joyful reception from supporters at Tunis' airport.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported that Marzouki, a 65-year-old medical doctor and human rights activist, was met by a crowd of his supporters.

Marzouki told them that he would ask Saudi Arabia to hand over Ben Ali (who has sought refuge there since Friday) who has to be prosecuted in Tunisia for "crimes committed against the people of Tunisia".

He also urged fellow Tunisians to hold firm in their efforts to bring down the RCD.

Marzouki called the ruling RCD a "parasite of the country".

"It's a government that isn't one, they have to leave," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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