TUNIS // Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali announced late yesterday that his plan for a new government of technocrats has failed, but he left the door open for compromise and did not say he would stand down.
"I say in all clarity that the initiative I presented – that is to say, a government composed of members not belonging to any political parties – failed to reach a consensus," Mr Jebali said after talks with party leaders.
"Another form of government" was still a possibility, he added.
Complicating a political crisis that has engulfed Tunisia after the February 6 assassination of a left-wing politician, media reports said the leader of the president Moncef Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR) party had resigned.
Mr Jebali, who is number two in the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, was seeking to forge a consensus on his proposal to form a non-partisan administration, designed to avert political turmoil, and has vowed to step down if his initiative is thwarted.
Ennahda's veteran leader, Rached Ghannouchi, and parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who heads the Islamists' coalition ally Ettakatol, were at the meeting along with key opposition leaders.
But the head of Mr Marzouki's party, Mohammed Abbou, was conspicuously absent amid reports that he had resigned.
Mr Jebali faced a fresh attack from his own party yesterday when the consultative council of Ennahda, which holds 89 of 271 seats in the national assembly, said his proposed government of technocrats "does not meet the needs of the present time".
"We remain committed to the formation of a coalition government which derives its legitimacy from the October 23, 2011 elections," the council said.
Ennahda won the 2011 polls and controls the key foreign, interior and justice ministries in the coalition cabinet. But it is divided between moderates, of whom Mr Jebali is the most prominent, and hardliners, represented by Mr Ghannouchi, who are refusing to give up the key portfolios, insisting on Ennahda's electoral legitimacy.
Mr Jebali first proposed his initiative in the wake of outrage over the murder of Chokri Belaid, a fierce critic of the ruling Islamists. Belaid's family has accused Ennahda of orchestrating his killing, which inflamed tensions between liberals and Islamists and sparked the worst political crisis since the 2011 revolution.
Yesterday, a statue erected in Belaid's honour was found vandalised and broken into pieces.
The media reported yesterday that in addition to the CPR's Mr Abbou resigning, several other MPs from the party were defecting. Mr Marzouki's secular, centre-left party has opposd Mr Jebali's plans, but is riven with internal divisions and differences with its Islamist allies.
There is also deadlock over the drafting of the constitution, with parliament still divided over the nature of Tunisia's future political system.