Tunisia’s new president asks for 6-month political truce, warns of ‘collective suicide’


Tunisia’s new president on Wednesday asked for a six-month political truce and a moratorium on strikes and protests, warning that otherwise the country would be committing “collective suicide.”

Tunisia electrified the Arab world when it overthrew its autocratic leader in January, but since then the caretaker authorities have been buffeted by social unrest, political turmoil and rows over the role of Islam in the political system.

“I appeal to all the Tunisian people to give us a political and social truce, just for six months,” Moncef Marzouki, a former political prisoner installed as president this week, said in a interview on state television.

“A political truce including all the political parties ... (and) a social truce by immediately stopping all sit-ins and strikes,” said Marzouki. “If we continue like this, it will be a collective suicide.”

“If things aren’t working out within six months, I will submit my resignation,” said Marzouki.

In Tunisia’s first ever democratic election, in October, voters handed victory to the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. Its nominee, Hamadi Jbeli, will be prime minister, the most powerful post.

Other top positions will be shared out among Ennahda’s two junior coalition partners, Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic and the left-wing Ettakatol party.

The new leaders will hold power for a year while a new constitution is drawn up and fresh elections are prepared.

A cabinet line-up is expected to be announced in the coming days. Three sources within the coalition said the finance ministry would go to Khayam Turki, a businessman who was put forward by Ettakatol.

Impatient for change

Since its revolution, Western leaders have hailed the former French colony as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, but the new authorities are struggling to appease Tunisians who are impatient for change.

There have been hundreds of protests in the past few months, most of them over poor living standards and high unemployment. Some have turned into riots, forcing security forces to fire into the air and impose curfews.

There has also been mounting tension between hardline Islamists, who want to ban the sale of alcohol and the mixing of the sexes in public places, and secularists who believe their liberal way of life is under threat.

Turki, the man tipped to become finance minister, was educated in Tunisia and France and studied at business school, his friend Jamel Touri told Reuters.

And though Ettakatol is known for its socialist foundations, Touri, who is also an official in the party, said the 40-year-old diplomat's son was an economic liberal.

“He is for economic openness and he is in favor of economic reforms to promote openness,” Touri said.