TUNIS Jan 26 Tunisia's new Prime Minister Mehdi
Jomaa on Sunday was forced to delay naming a caretaker
government to lead until elections after failing to reach a
consensus over the key post of interior minister.
Jomaa, a technocrat, was appointed in December after ruling
Islamists agreed to step down in a compromise with secular
opponents to end a crisis threatening to upend democratic
transition after their 2011 "Arab Spring" revolt.
Jomaa had planned to present his cabinet before the
president on Saturday, but just after midnight the premier told
at a press briefing there was no consensus over the cabinet list
and he could not name the government.
"I have to inform the president that I do not have the
list," he said. "It is not a question of a person, but rather I
am looking for a real consensus in the government. There should
not be any division."
He said the president could reassign him to the task of
forming a new government or name another candidate.
It was a setback for Tunisia after its assembly finished the
country's new constitution last week, progress widely praised as
a model in contrast to upheaval in Libya, Egypt and Yemen who
also ousted leaders in 2011 uprisings.
Party sources said Tunisian opposition leaders wanted to a
new interior minister, but Jomaa pressed to keep the current
minister to ensure continuity in key security matters as the
country faces Islamist militants.
After months of deadlock last year, North African country's
Islamist party Ennahda agreed to step down in a compromise deal
to make way for a non-political, technocrat government to ease
tensions and prepare for elections later this year.
One of the most secular countries in the Arab World, Tunisia
has struggled with deepening divisions over the role of Islam
and the rise of ultra-conservative Salafists, who secularists
worried would infringe on liberal education and rights.
No date has been set for elections, but the new government
will have to tackle demands from international lenders to cut
public spending and curb the country's budget deficit without
triggering protests over economic hardships.
Islamist militants, tied to al Qaeda operations in North
Africa, are also a growing threat for a country that relies
heavily on European tourism and overseas remittances for its
hard currency income.
(Writing by Patrick Markey, editing by G Crosse)