By Eileen Byrne
Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has named another former political prisoner as prime minister after his predecessor resigned this week.
The surprise choice of Laarayedh was made in an internal party vote late Thursday. Like his predecessor Hamadi Jebali, Laarayedh was for many years a political detainee. For the last 14 months he has headed the interior ministry, going to work in the same building where he was once tortured.
The appointment does not end the country’s political crisis, as Laarayedh will be under pressure to appoint non-party figures to key cabinet posts, including at the interior ministry.
Adnane Mancer, a spokesman for Tunisia’s president, Moncef Marzouki, said although Laarayedh had two weeks to put together his cabinet it would be preferable for the nominations to be made in the next few days.
Laarayedh, 57, has had mixed success at the unsettled interior ministry, which controls the police and national guard. Many officials there continued in their posts after the 2011 revolution that overthrew the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. After demonstrators – many of them conservative Salafist Islamists – stormed the US embassy in September there were calls for Laarayedh’s resignation. Opposition parties also accuse the authorities of failing to protect the right to organise without intimidation.
The days following the assassination of the leftist politician Chokri Belaïd on 6 February saw a move to push Ennahda’s three-party coalition out of government. Amid anger at the killing, some opposition parties boycotted the constitutional assembly.
Elected in October 2011, the assembly is drawing up a new constitution before elections due this year.
Jebali resigned after his party rejected his proposal for a government entirely of technocrats. In a farewell address on Friday he appealed to “brotherly and friendly countries” to support Tunisia’s transition to democracy and to “abstain from intervening in our internal affairs”. It was interpreted as a warning to Algeria – which some analysts say is concerned at having an elected, Islamist-led government on its doorstep – and France.