Exclusive: Tunisian Islamist wants convertible currency

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 28, 2011 10:34 AM
Exclusive: Tunisian Islamist wants convertible currency

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Rachid Ghannouchi, the moderate Islamist leader whose party will dominate Tunisia's new coalition government, said on Friday he would pursue a liberal economic policy which included making the dinar currency convertible.

Convertibility, a reform which should encourage foreign investment, was a commitment of the previous Tunisian administration, forced out in a revolution earlier this year that gave birth to the "Arab Spring" uprisings.

Ghannouchi's moderate Ennahda party is the first Islamist group to win power since the Hamas faction won a 2006 election in the Palestinian Territories. Ennahda has moved to calm nerves by conveying a message of business-friendly continuity.

"We are in favor of the convertibility of the Tunisian dinar," Ghannouchi told Reuters in an interview. Asked about a timetable for this, he said: "Our experts are going to give clarifications on that."

"We have a liberal economic program which encourages investment and initial public offerings (IPOs). We are committed to providing a climate which is far from corruption and which allows the interests of investors to be protected," he said.

The administration of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was praised by institutions like the International Monetary Fund for its liberal economic policy.

Its plans for an IPO of state telephone operator Tunisie Telecom were dropped by the caretaker government which took over after the revolution, under pressure from trade unions.

Ennahda on Thursday was declared winner of an election for a new assembly which will sit for one year. Its task is to rewrite the constitution, form an interim government and set new elections, probably for early 2013.

TRUSTED MINISTERS

Ghannouchi's party fell just short of a majority in the assembly, so it will broker a coalition with two secularist parties in the assembly.

The Ennahda leader spoke to Reuters in a Tunis wedding banquet venue called "Top Happiness", where shortly before he had given his first news conference after the official election results were announced.

Wearing his trademark suit and open-necked shirt, the soft-spoken Islamic scholar -- who spent 22 years in exile in Britain -- was relaxed and smiling.

Asked about the formation of a new government, he said: "The change will not be total. The direction will be toward making certain changes. These decisions will be taken after discussions with our partners."

"But what we think is that we have trust in several ministers who are honest and who have carried out their duties well in the strategic sectors."

"We do not see any point in moving them but all this depends on our discussions with our partners," Ghannouchi said.

The majority coalition in the assembly will appoint a new president, a largely ceremonial post which is held at the moment by Fouad Mebazaa, the only holdover from the Ben Ali administration still in a senior post.

Ghannouchi said: "We have no candidate for the presidency of the republic. We support one of our partners like Mustafa Ben Jaafar or Moncef Marzouki and it could also be an independent personality."

Marzouki is leader of the second-placed Congress for the Republic, while Ben Jaafar heads the Ettakatol party, which came third in the election. Both parties are likely to join Ennahda in a coalition.

A senior Ennahda official this week said it was possible that Beji Caid Sebsi, the secularist technocrat who is now interim prime minister, might be nominated as president.

The Islamists' election victory was overshadowed by violence in Sidi Bouzid, the provincial town where vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself 11 months ago in an act of protest that launched Tunisia's revolution.

Supporters of the Popular List party, which has a strong following in Sidi Bouzid, burned down buildings after the independent election commission disqualified the party's candidates in several regions.

Ghannouchi said he suspected the hand of people linked to Ben Ali's now-banned ruling party, the RCD.

"It was this group which is behind everything that happened in Sidi Bouzid," he told Reuters.

"It's possible too that there were some parties of extreme ideologies which are behind what happened ... Or maybe, those who did not succeed in the election," he said.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Roche)