TUNIS, TUNISIA – Tunisia’s increasingly isolated government has accepted a proposition by the country's union as a starting point to begin negotiations with secularist opposition parties.

The influential Tunisian General Labour Union, UGTT by its French acronym, announced in a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday that the Islamist Ennahdha party had agreed to the initiative that it has proposed as a compromise solution. 

Rachid Ghannouchi, president of Ennahdha, confirmed in a statement that he had agreed to the UGTT initiative “as a starting point for national dialogue”.

His party has not yet accepted the UGTT’s proposition to dissolve Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh's government and replace it with an interim government made up of experienced leaders without any political affiliation.

But for the first time, Ennahdha has hinted that it is ready to begin negotiating such a possibility.

"The coalition government will not resign and will continue its duties until national dialogue reaches a consensus agreement that guarantees the completion of the democratic transition and the organisation of free and fair elections," Ghannouchi said.

Opposition meeting

The next step is for the opposition coalition, under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front, to accept the UGTT’s proposal.

Opposition parties are due to meet with the UGTT on Friday morning, when they will decide whether to accept Ennahdha’s propositions.

“When we manage to convince all the parties of our initiative, then we will sit down and discuss the most professional and independent national figures that we can think of,” Samir Cheffi, deputy secretary-general of the UGTT, told Al Jazeera.

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The UGTT is acting as a negotiator in a bid to reach an agreement between Ennahdha and its allies on one side, and a coalition of secularist opposition parties that say the Islamist party is clinging to power and stacking the odds in its own favour.

“We cannot look after a political party’s interests without looking after the national interest. The national interest needs to be the red line for all the political parties,” Cheffi said.

Rafaa Ben Achour, a member of the centrist-secularist Nidaa Tounes Party, told Al Jazeera that there was no reason for Ennahdha to fear a crackdown on Islamists such as in Egypt, where the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi and hundreds have been killed as protests supporting him were crushed.

"Certainly what is happening in Egypt has consequences for Tunisia. In the attitude of Ennahdha, there is a desire to avenge what is happening in Egypt. Maybe, by clinging to power, Ennahdha is trying to show that political Islam has not failed," Ben Achour told Al Jazeera.
"The difference with Egypt is that no one in Tunisia wants to exclude Ennahdha. Every political party, especially Nidaa Tounes, has said clearly that Ennahdha will always be a part of the Tunisian political landscape."

Opposition members of Tunisia’s constituent assembly have been boycotting its sessions since the assassination of leftist politician Mohamed Brahimi, and want the assembly dissolved.

A potential sticking point for the opposition is the fact that the UGTT does not support calls for the dissolution of the constituent assembly.

You can follow Yasmine Ryan on Twitter: @yasmineryan

Source: Al Jazeera