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Islamists vow new Tunisia government within a month

Asma Ghannouchi, daughter of the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party arrives to celebrate the Ennahdha victory yesterday at the movement headquarters in Tunis. Photo: AFP

Asma Ghannouchi, daughter of the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party arrives to celebrate the Ennahdha victory yesterday at the movement headquarters in Tunis. Photo: AFP

Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party yesterday vowed to form a new government within a month as preliminary results gave it a commanding lead, but not a majority, in the Arab Spring’s first election.

As coalition negotiations got under way in earnest, the biggest secular party defended its negotiations with Ennahda, saying the Islamist party was neither the devil nor the Taliban.

“No, no, no it is not the devil and we do not make pacts with the devil,” Congress for the Republic (CPR) leader Moncef Marzouki told reporters in Tunis.

“One must not take them for the Taliban of Tunisia. It is a moderate part of Islam.”

Banned under the regime of ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, 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.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, said a preliminary vote tally of about 40 per cent made it the “natural” choice to lead the new executive, as an executive party member said Ennahda has put forward its number two, Hamadi Jebali, as the next head of government.

The 62-year-old, an engineer by training and a former journalist, is a co-founder of Ennahda. A vehement opponent of Ben Ali, he spent 16 years in jail, 10 in isolation, for his political activities.

Mr Ghannouchi has always said he had no government ambitions, and was not an election candidate.

Three days after Tunisians voted en masse for a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution, appoint a caretaker government and prepare for fresh elections, the official outcome was not yet known.

The country appeared headed for complicated coalition negotiations, with all of Ennahda’s possible partners on the leftist, liberal side of the political spectrum.

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

He also stressed the country’s Arabic identity and lamented its adopted Franco-Arabic character and “language pollution”.

Mr Marzouki said the protection of civil liberties and gender equality were non-negotiatables, adding: “We are capable of negotiating with them (Ennahda), to ensure that these ideals are maintained in Tunisia without an ideological civil war, without a battle between the modernist pole and the Islamist pole.”

The interim results gave a joint second place to the CPR and the Petition for Justice and Development -– a grouping backed by Hachmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman with close ties to Ben Ali. The leftist Progressive Democratic Party shared the third place with Ettakatol, whose leader Mustapha Ben Jafaar Tuesday proclaimed himself willing to “assume the highest responsibility” in a new government.

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

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