TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian parliamentarians are pushing for a no-confidence vote in the Islamist-led government, whose divisive decision to extradite Muammar Gaddafi’s prime minister has caused the country’s deepest political crisis since last year’s elections.
Tunisia extradited Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi to Libya on Sunday, making him the first senior Gaddafi-era official to be returned for trial under Libya’s transitional leadership.
But Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist, complained that the extradition had taken place without his permission, which he had withheld for months over concerns that Mahmoudi would not receive a fair trial in Libya.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party won 42 percent of seats in the first elections of the Arab Spring in October but formed a government in coalition with two secular parties, including Marzouki’s Conference for a Republic.
The dispute over Mahmoudi sparked a heated debate in Tunisia over what the opposition describes as Ennahda’s unilateral behavior and failure to consult the constituent assembly.
The president and the government disagree over whether presidential approval is needed for an extradition to go ahead.
The dispute has turned into the deepest crisis the government has faced since its formation in December and follows months of pressure on Ennahda from secular opponents who accuse it of failing to create jobs and rein in radical Islamists.
Seventy-five parliamentarians have signed the motion for a no-confidence vote, clinching the one-third necessary for a vote in the 217-seat constituent assembly.
“Following our stand against the government’s violations in extraditing Al Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi... and our rejection of the marginalization of the constituent assembly’s role... we present a motion to withdraw confidence from the government,” the parliamentarians said in a statement.
The motion has yet to be presented but, should a vote be held, 51 percent of members must vote against the government to force it to resign. There is a serious possibility that the rebels could muster enough support to make that happen.
Though Ennahda and its two coalition partners hold more than 51 percent of assembly seats, divisions within the Conference for a Republic and Ettakatol have led to a wave of resignations in recent months, reducing their combined strength.
Signatories to the motion include several politicians who have recently quit Ennahda’s coalition partners.
Tunisia, the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections as uprisings spread around the region last year, has so far made a relatively smooth transition to democracy, but a successful no-confidence vote could disrupt that process.
Divisions could complicate discussions on a new government line-up, hampering efforts to revive the economy and draft a new constitution ahead of elections for a full four-year parliament planned for next year.
“This government has made many mistakes that damage Tunisia’s interests, including Mahmoudi’s extradition, and now we are seeing the first results of this,” said opposition assembly member Samir Beltayyeb.
Writing by Lin Noueihed, editing by Tim Pearce