Tunisian PM: Elections to be held on December 17 (UPDATE)

On July 29, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh has called for early elections, in order to cease the unrest after the murder of legislator Mohamed Brahmi on July 25. The elections are to be held on December 17. The Tunisian opposition had been calling for the resignation of the Islamist led government, stating that the murder of Brahmi signaled the governments inefficiency of protecting its citizens. The social democratic party Ettakatol, one of the ruling Troika coalition partners, has joined opposition forces in calls for a ‘government of national unity’, that would replace the current government.

Prime Minister Laarayedh said that his government would stay in office until elections are held. ‘We are not clinging to power, but we have a duty and a responsibility that we will exercise to the end.’

December 17 is an important date in Tunisian history. On that day, three years ago, street vendor Mohamed Boazizi set himself on fire in protest of the government. The act would sparkle the Tunisian Revolution, which in turn initiated the Arab spring.

Meanwhile, in the night of July 29 eight Tunisian soldiers had been killed in an ambush on mount Jebel Chaambi, near the Algerian border. The attack once more lead to ten thousand protestors demonstrating for the resignation of the government who, as they claim, could not guarantee the country’s safety.

Mohamed Brahmi

Brahmi, leader of a secular leftist opposition party, was gunned down outside his house on July 25. The killing incited nationwide anger and exposes a deepening political divide in the country. 

Brahmi’s sister had accused the ruling Islamist led Ennahda party for the killing, saying: ‘Ennahda killed my brother.’ Brahmi was a critic of the Ennahda-led ruling coalition and a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted a new constitution. Ennahda denies any such claims and called on all parties to show ‘responsibility and restraint at this sensitive time.’

It was the second time in only six months that a leading politician had been killed. In February Chokry Belaid, leader of the leftist Popular front, was shot dead. His death also provoked a political crisis that nearly derailed Tunisia’s political transition. The Tunisian Interior Minister Lutfi bin Jidu announced a day later that the weapon used for the killing of Brahimi was the same as the one which was used to murder Belaid.

‘A crime against the democratic transition’

Although Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that leads the government denied any responsibility in the shooting, and condemned the assassination, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Interior Ministry building, blaming the party and its followers for the killing and demanding the government to resign. The Tamarod (Rebel) protest movement, had called for widespread demonstrations in order to topple the government, while the biggest labor organization of the country (UGTT), called for a general strike.

Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh earlier said he would not dissolve the government, and leave the country in a power vacuum. He drew links with the current unrest in Egypt, stating that the assassins had aimed to use events there to ‘try to undermine our process and derail it, and take the country into the unknown, whether it is chaos, fighting or civil war or a return to despotism o a return to square one.’

Tunisia’s political transition since the ousting of Ben Ali has been relatively peaceful, with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party sharing power with smaller secular parties. But the government has been struggling to revive a stuttering economy and has come under fire from secularist who accuse it of failing to curb the activities of Salafis and Jihadis.

Sources: Al Arabiya, Tunis Times, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Guardian, NY Times

 

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