Tunisia's Islamist Prime Minister Officially Resigns
Tunisia's Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh resigned on Thursday, as part of a plan to end months of political deadlock which has fuelled mounting social unrest, AFP reported.
His resignation sees the departure of Tunisia's first democratically elected government, which came to power after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings almost three years ago.
"We took on our responsibilities in very difficult conditions. We have worked for the benefit of our country and we respect our commitments," Larayedh was quoted as having said on national television, before announcing his resignation at a news conference.
His stepping down comes as part of a blueprint, drawn up by mediators, to put the democratic transition back on track after the assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi last year.
Under the plan, he is to be replaced within 15 days by premier designate Mehdi Jomaa at the head of a government of technocrats that will lead the country to fresh elections this year under a new constitution.
"The president has charged me with supervising the running of the country until the new government of Mehdi Jomaa is formed," Larayedh said, according to AFP.
Larayedh's Islamist Ennahda party had been under mounting pressure to relinquish the grip on power it won after the uprising in elections to a constituent assembly, as the economy has stagnated and social unrest has intensified.
The country has witnessed a number of sometimes violent protests since the start of the week at the government's failure to improve living conditions.
Two years ago, Tunisians elected the moderate Islamist Ennahda party in the country's first free and competitive elections. It formed a government in alliance with two secular parties.
Tunisia has been roiled by social unrest and political crises ever since, the latest sparked by the murder in July of Brahmi, which triggered calls for the resignation of the coalition government.
The formation late Wednesday of an independent authority to oversee fresh elections, which the Islamists had set as a condition for stepping down, removed the last hurdle to Larayedh's resignation, according to the powerful UGTT trade union confederation, the main mediator in the crisis.
The approval of a new constitution, which Ennahda had also demanded in return for handing over power, is on track to meet an agreed deadline of January 14, the uprising's third anniversary, with the assembly voting on it intensively article by article.
The Tunisian parliament approved the new constitution this week, which names Islam as the official religion. While Sharia law will not be the basis of the constitution, Article 73 of the new plan does demand that the President be exclusively Muslim - as a model of being a good Tunisian citizen.