The Tunisian political spectrum: still unbalanced


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Considered the most successful Arab country in transition, Tunisia benefits from favorable information and, as a result, has escaped scrutiny. While there is no doubt that Tunisia’s transition is proving to be easier than that of other countries, it still faces considerable political problems, in addition to its very serious economic challenges.

The major political problem remains the imbalance of the political spectrum between the well-organized and cohesive Islamist Ennahda party against a large number of fragmented secular parties. These parties are keenly aware that their chances of electoral success are limited unless they manage to forge larger coalitions, but they have so far failed to create lasting groupings, let alone much. secular alliance.

Ottaway Marina

Prior to joining the Foundation, Ottaway conducted research in Africa and the Middle East for many years and taught at Addis Ababa University, University of Zambia, American University in Cairo and at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

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In the meantime, the government coalition made up of Ennahda, the secular and centrist Congress for the Republic, and the secular and center-left Ettakatol, which has never been more than a marriage of convenience between groups suspicious of each other. others show signs of strain. While this does not mean that a crisis is imminent, it is reminiscent of the difficulties and complications involved in even a successful transition.

The government coalition

The troika controls a total of 138 of the 217 seats in the Constituent Assembly. Ennahda, by far the largest party with 89 seats, could not govern without the support of the other two members.

  • Ennahda (89 seats), led by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, has so far managed to maintain its cohesion. Although there are more liberal and conservative tendencies in the organization, the differences have so far been brought under control. However, the party has repeatedly postponed its next convention, which is now scheduled for July 12-14. The delay suggests that management fears that the congress, during which internal party issues will be discussed, may increase tensions. The recent announcement by party chairman Rached Ghannouchi that he has no plans to seek re-election for this post will undoubtedly spark a power struggle.
  • The Congress for the Republic (CPR, 29 seats), led by Moncef Marzouki, shows signs of considerable tension. Marzouki, who became President of Tunisia in December 2011, has been accused by some party members of putting personal ambition ahead of party interests. Obviously, now that he is president of the republic, he is less directly involved in the internal affairs of the party and therefore he could not prevent twelve representatives of the CPR in the Constituent Assembly from seceding and forming a new party. (See Independent Democratic Congress below.)
  • Ettakatol (twenty seats), led by Mustafa Ben Jaafar, has been a reluctant ally of Ennahda. Many Ettakatol officials have been surprisingly outspoken that the decision to join Ennahda in government was based on political expediency and not on ideological or programmatic affinity. Discontent in the ranks over the alliance resulted in a few defections, and above all a lot of grumbling.

Coalitions of opposition parties

The information provided here is not static as coalitions are quite unstable and subject to change. Indeed, the announcement on June 16 of the formation of a new political party called Nedaa Tunis, or the Appel pour la Tunisie party (see below), calls into question the sustainability of these groupings, in particular the Social Democratic Way. .

A first statement issued by some secular parties that they would form a grand coalition to defeat Ennahda in the next parliamentary elections, which are tentatively scheduled for March 20, 2013, has been overly optimistic. Far from forming a global coalition, the parties are even struggling to build small alliances. So far, only two rather small coalitions of uncertain endurance have been formed:

A still anonymous coalition party

The party considers itself center-left, but its makeup suggests that it is probably more center than left. He understands:

  • the Progressive Democratic Party (sixteen seats), led by Ahmed Najib Chebbi, is secular and centrist or just center-left. He expected very good results in the 2011 elections for the Constituent Assembly and is looking for a way to reassert himself as a major player in Tunisian politics. He clearly dominates the much smaller organizations of the new party.
  • Afek Tounes (four seats), led by Mustapha Mezghani, is secular, economically liberal and considered to represent the business world.
  • the Tunisian Republican Party, led by Abdelaziz Belkhodja, is also secular and economically liberal. It’s unclear how many seats he could bring to the coalition, as in the 2011 Constituent Assembly elections he ran along with several other parties as part of the Modernist Democratic Pole, which won a total of five. seats.

The fact that the supporters of this party could not agree on a name does not inspire confidence in the sustainability of the organization.

The Social Democratic Way led by Ahmed Ibrahim and Samir Battaib, with Abdejalil Bedoui as vice-president

A center-left coalition, the Social Democratic Way controls few parliamentary seats. Its members are:

  • the Modernist Democratic Pole (PDM, five seats) is headed by Riadh Ben Fadl and Mustapha Ben Ahmed.
  • Ettajdid, led by Ahmed Ibrahim, is a leftist party that ran in 2011 as part of the PDM, so a merger of the PDM and Ettajdid would not represent a real change.
  • the Tunisian Labor Party, led by Abdejalil Bedoui, does not have a seat in parliament.

The party, which has yet to be named, and the Voie Social Democrat have discussed the possibility of merging into a single organization or at least forming a coalition. Even if the merger took place, the new entity would only have 25 seats and would therefore be behind the Congress for the Republic and the People’s Petition (discussed below) in size.

This possible new six-party coalition is described in most discussions as social-democratic or center-left. In reality, it would be an ideological hybrid, comprising Ettajdid and the Tunisian Labor Party (formerly Communist), the centrist Progressive Democratic Party, and center-right liberal economic parties like Afek Tounes and the Republican Party.

Fragmented secular opposition parties

Even if the two coalitions survive or merge, the secular political spectrum will remain highly fragmented. In addition to the parties discussed here, which won seats in the Constituent Assembly, dozens of other parties have registered and exist at least nominally. Parties outside of coalitions include:

  • Popular petition (26 seats), led by Mohamed Hamdi, is the most notable of the parties that have remained independent. Its electoral success was completely unexpected and achieved by a combination of its populist, semi-Islamist message and its appeal to the population of the economically depressed interior regions where the founder, Hamdi, is from.

While the Popular Petition is a sui generis party, difficult to classify ideologically, most of those who remain outside the coalitions have few seats in the assembly and have center or center-left profiles similar to those of the parties. looking to merge. The obstacles to their membership in larger coalitions therefore seem to be personalities and ambitions rather than ideology or a political calculation which they do not need allies. These parts include:

  • the Free Patriotic Union (six seats), led by Slim Riahi, is a secular, economically liberal party.
  • Popular movement (two seats), led by Mohammed Brahimi, defines itself as a pan-Arab nationalist and socialist party.
  • the Movement of Social Democrats (two seats) is headed by Mohammed al-Mouadda.
  • the Maghreb Liberal Party (one seat), led by Mohamed Bouebdelli, is a secular, economically liberal party.

A few other parties, however, would struggle to integrate into emerging coalitions, including:

  • the Initiative (five seats), led by Kamal Mourjane, is organized and supported by elements of the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), the now dissolved party of former President Ben Ali.
  • the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (three seats), led by Hamma Hammami, is widely regarded as an old-fashioned hard-line Communist Party.

New holidays

As coalition-building efforts lag behind, new organizations emerge, adding to the fragmentation. Only those who seem most likely to win seats in the next parliamentary elections are mentioned here:

  • the Independent Democratic Congress is headed by the former secretary general of the CPR Abderraouf Ayadi, with journalist Slim Boukhdhir as spokesperson. Because it was formed by defectors from the CPR, it already has twelve members in the Constituent Assembly.
  • Al-Islah of Dr. Muhammad Khoja was registered on May 11, 2012. This Salafist party demands that the constitution declares that Sharia is the source of legislation. Although it also insists that Islam accepts the concepts of democracy and freedom, the party asserts that freedom is only allowed within the limits of Islamic law, since the ruler is bound by Sharia law and must apply it fully on all questions of daily life. In a nod to the reality of Tunisian life, however, al-Islah says he will not force women to wear scarves or veils and will not ban tourism.

Efforts have been underway for several months to create a new party on the model of the Neo Destour (the New Constitutional Liberal Party), now dissolved and fiercely secular, of Habib Bourghiba, the first Tunisian president.

Supporters of the idea of ​​relaunching a Neo Destour-type party met, on March 25, 2012, Beji Caïd Essebsi, who was interim Prime Minister between the ousting of former President Ben Ali and the December 2011 elections. The possibility of creating a common front of secular parties under the Destourian banner was raised during the meeting, to which representatives of Ettajdid, Afek Tounes and the Initiative were invited.

The ruling troika quickly denounced the meeting as “traces of the old regime”, with a representative of the CPR declaring that “these people want to steal the Tunisian revolution”.

Nonetheless, on June 16, Essebsi announced the formation of Nedaa Tunis, or the Appel pour la Tunisie party. Essebsi said the new movement aims to build national consensus and unify the opposition parties “scattered” in Tunisia. Ahmed Ibrahim, first secretary of the Tunisian Ettajdid movement, affirmed his party’s support for the new initiative and his commitment to work with Nedaa Tunis in the future. Constituent Assembly member Salma Bakkar, who is part of the PDM, also said she would work with the new movement. It remains to be seen whether this party will help unify the opposition or add to its fragmentation.

It is likely that more parties will form before the next vote, and indeed dozens of parties still exist that are nominally registered but dormant. The Tunisian political spectrum so far shows little sign of becoming less fragmented.

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