Tunisia’s Ennahdha party has said it will nominate its secretary-general as candidate for the post of prime minister, after gains in Sunday’s vote paved the way for the moderately Islamist party to be the dominant force in the country’s constituent assembly.
Hamadi Jbeli said on Wednesday that he would be the party’s preferred choice, Tunisia’s TAP news agency reported.
“It is completely normal since the secretary-general of the winning party in all democracies is the one who takes the prime minister’s post,” Jbeli said.
A native of the eastern town of Sousse, known as the “Pearl of the Tunisian Sahel”, the solar engineer and former journalist was a co-founder in 1981 of the Islamic Tendency Movement that became Ennahda eight years later.
A former editor of Ennahda’s Al Fajr newspaper, Jebali was sentenced in 1991 to a year in prison for defamation. A year later, as the repression under Zine el Abidine Ben Ali gathered steam, he was sentenced to another 16 years behind bars.
He served a large part of his sentence in an isolation cell before being pardoned in 2006.
Said Firjani, a member of the party’s communications office, confirmed the choice to Al Jazeera, but said the final decision rested with the constituent assembly.
He also confirmed Ennahdha would not be seeking the post of president, possibly paving the way for Beji Caid Sebsi, the interim prime minister, to stand for the post.
“It is up to the constituent assembly to decide both positions,” said Firjani. “Jbeli is the candidate that Ennahdha will be preferring [as prime minister] but it is not going to impose its choice. The president will come from another party.”
With 87 seats of the 217-seat constituent assembly announced on Tuesday, Ennahdha had won 37 seats. The Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) had 14, Aridha Chaabia 11, Ettakatol 10 and the Progressive Democratic Party five seats.
In a statement, Ennahdha claimed that it won “over 40 per cent” of seats.
“We stress once again that we wish to co-operate with all parties without any exclusion. We are open to all political parties inside the assembly and outside it, as well as civil society bodies such as the great Tunisian trade union and other unions,” the statement said.
“We are in talks in order to form alliances based on a shared economic, social and political programme.”
The party’s leader and founding member, Rachid Ghannouchi made a brief appearance in front of supporters at the party’s headquarters on Tuesday night.
But he did not speak to the crowd, telling Al Jazeera that he would not give a victory speech until the electoral commission had announced the full results.
“It’s a victory,” he said, before reaffirming his statements made before the election that he would not be seeking to be appointed president in any future government.
Coalition talks under way
Ennahdha appears to have already begun that process of coalition formation, even before full results had been announced by the country’s independent election commission.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Fouad Baly, a leading member of the centre-left party Ettakatol, confirmed that talks were under way with Ennahda.
“It is clear that the largest parties in the constituent assembly must speak amongst themselves to help take this country forward,” Baly told Al Jazeera.
“Mustapha Ben Jaafar [Ettakatol’s general-secretary] is a man of consensus, and wants all the political forces in this country to unite to work together.”
He did not give details of the negotiations that, he said, had begun after election day on Sunday.
Late on Monday, the Reuters news agency, citing senior Ennahda official Ali Larayd, reported that the party was considering forming a coalition with both Ettakatol and the CPR.
Ennahdha has not competed in an election since 1989, when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali allowed individual candidates from the party to participate before allegedly tampering with the results.
The newly-elected assembly will rewrite the constitution and also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.