Tunis during the rule of Nidaa coalition .. Is it return the old regime ?

The Observation and Analysis Unit
05 Nov 2014

Dictatorship, which ruled the country since the times of Bourguiba until Bin Ali, maintained control over politics

Dictatorship, which ruled the country since the times of Bourguiba until Bin Ali, maintained control over politics. This led to a state of paralysis in political life and marginalization of the civil society bodies for decades. Recently, the political life in Tunis in the last three years witnessed a couple of democratic achievements, notably the 2011 elections following the revolution, the drafting of the new constitution after suspending the 1959 constitution, and culminated in holding the parliamentary elections in January 26, 2014. This means that the revolution succeded in creating an atmosphere of national partnerships and effective presence of the civil society institutions. It is also an important indication of political stability and an assertion that a one-party rule is not tenable in post-revolution Tunis. This is proven by the results of the elections where votes were shared among the major parties, and the emergence of new parties in the country. The Independent High Authority for Elections received almost 13000 applications to compete for the parliamentary elections and 72 applications to run for the presidential elections later on, which indicates an increase in the levels of political awareness and ambitions.

The Latest Elections

The announcement by the High Authority for Elections in Tunis in October 30, 2014 of the preliminary results of the parliamentary elections was surprising for some reasons we are going to discuss later. Nidaa Tunis party took the lead and won 85 seats representing 39,1%. Ennahdha movement came second with 69 seats, representing 31,79%. Then came the Free Patriotic Union by 16 seats (7,3%) then “Popular Front” by 15 seats (6,9%) followed by Afek Tounes by 8 seats (3,68%). Other smaller parties and independent lists won the remaining 24 seats. The Parliament consists of 217 seats, and the electoral constituents were 27 inside Tunis and 6 abroad. The turnout in this elections reached 68.36% of the 5,285,136 registered voters, while 31,64% did not vote. The loss of Ennahdha for NidaaTunis and the significant gap between Ennahdha and “the Patriotic Union” portends a period of fierce political competition between the two parties.

The Surprises of the Tunis Elections

The elections presented three surprising phenomena:

The return of figures affiliated with the ousted regime of Bin Ali has been a major concern for the revolutionary powers in the country, including Ennahdha, The Republican party, and Afaq Tunis, including others. Ennahdha in this respect is responsible for annulling the law of political isolation of the figures of the Bin Ali regime, which made it easier for them to return to the political life in the country. Ennahdha justifies its position in terms of the dangers this law might have on democracy if certain constituents in the country were excluded from participation despite their political, financial, and human powers, invoking examples from Iraq and Libya.

Nidaa Party has patched together former members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally, and it was not present as a party in the 2011 elections. After annulling the political isolation law, previously approved by the Constituent Assembly at the time of the troika government “Ennahdha and its allies”. The Nidaa party has patched together several parties such as The Initiative Party and the Constitutional Movement Party, and it soon became a major player in the Tunisian politics, and swept a victory in the last elections. The success of Nidaa Party can be traced to a number of factors which were present at the time of the troika government:

First: this indicates that the Arab Spring revolutions have not been directed against the state or its institutions, they were simply an attempt to eradicate the autocratic dictatorships that have ruled for so long. Therefore these revolutions were committed to a peaceful transition towards democratization, and opted for free elections and political alliances. Nevertheless, this process has been exploited by the ousted regimes to rearrange themselves, each in a different manner (Egypt, Yemen, Libya …). It was considered a short break after the consecutive blows they received, and an opportunity to prepare for next moves. Some believe that the revolutionary powers in Tunis made a grave mistake when they opted for a political solution before fully achieving the aims of their revolution, which eventually led to the current circumstances in the region.

This was evident after the revolutionary powers entrusted Beci Ceid Sebsi to head the first government after the overthrow of Bin Ali. This was preceded though by the resignation of Mohammad al-Ghannushi. Sebsi was close to Bin Ali and served as a Prime Minister for a long period. He also served as the Minister of Interior during the rule of Bourguiba. Likewise, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt won the trust of Morsi, while the revolution powers in Yemen chose Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the second in command of the ousted regime, to become the new President.

Second: The ousted regimes took advantage of the political animosities and dissension among the powers of the revolution. Such disagreements were exploited by the deep state entrenched in the public institutions, especially in the media and judiciary, and including Nidaa party, which was patched by a number of businessmen affiliated with the previous regime and 29 of them ran for the recent elections. This is naturally working for the revolution powers, who are still engaged with endless mutual accusations and disputes, while new alliances are being formed with the aim of quelling the Arab revolutions inside and outside of Tunis, and it will be too late then to fix things for any change.

The left parties represented by “the popular front” witnessed a huge decline, and that might be due to their radical ideologies which made them isolated. It should be noted as well that the left and Marxist parties in Tunis have their own internal conflicts, and that is reflected by the recent decline in the popularity of such parties. Nevertheless, the popular front presents itself as an alternative of the Destourians rule, represented by the Nidaa Party “Bin Ali loyalists” who are considered bourgeoisies, and an alternative of the rule of Islamists. The popular front rejected to participate in a unity government with Ennahdha, and its influenced drastically declined in the last period.

The Republican Party also suffered the loss of about 10 seats out of the 27 it won in the 2011 elections. Likewise, Ennahdha came second after it was the party of the majority in the previous elections, but it still can play a major role of an alliance is struck up with the Republican Party due its revolutionary attitude which is shared between the two parties.

The question raised at the moment is whether the Nidaa party shall apply the same inclusive strategy when dealing with Ennahdha and other revolutionary powers in the country, or is it the beginning of political exclusion and the one-party rule?

The opponents of of Ennahdha during its rule endeavored to challenge it and disturb the political situation which will have a direct influence on the economy. Economy was thought a main hurdle facing the government at the time, and it promised to take the necessary steps to improve the standard of living in the country, inspired by the achievement of the Justice and Development party in Turkey. To do this, the leaders of Ennahdha made some compromises, taking lessons from the case in Egypt, instead of clinging to legitimacy and democracy. The movement agreed to make Ali Alareed step down, and it agreed to amend certain articles in the constitution, including the article concerning the Islamic Sharia as a main source of legislations. Ennahdha unconditionally agreed to adopt rights and freedoms in the constitution. Such compromises made by Ennahdha were not enough for its political opponents, who believe that they forced Ennahdha to acquiesce to their demands following popular protests by their supporters.

The movement views the situation differently. It succeeded in giving a clear idea locally and internationally regarding the nature of the Islamists rule, and it probably changed a lot of perspectives and stereotypes propagated by the media about the Islamists and their rule. This is reflected by a statement by Sheikh Rashid al-Ghannushi: “the movement is on the right track, and the compromises made by the movement shouldn’t be taken as a sign of weakness as long as Tunis is safe. If we were not able to rule this time, we shall have an opportunity in the future, but if we lose the stability and security of this country, it will be a loss for everybody.” In this way, Ghannushi obliges the Nidaa party to act responsibly and to favor the public interest over the ideological or party interests.

Success Factors

Tunis became a truly inspiring example for other Arab-spring countries in the region, where coups and conflicts marred the process of democratization in while Tunis remained resilient and overcame the huge obstacles that could have otherwise led to the demise of emerging democracy in the country. There are certain factors which helped ease the tensions among the political rivalries in Tunis, such as the degree of awareness among the political parties, the realization by the Tunisian people of the importance of national unity and coexistence, in addition to the neutrality and independence of the military. Politically, Ennahdha movement played a major role in pushing the country towards democratization. The efforts of Ennahdha affected some of its activities in the Tunisian society, but they were indispensable in the struggle against the counter-revolution.

The achievements in Tunisia could not be solely attributed to the maturity and agility of Ennahdha. There are other essential factors that contributed to this success, and could be summarized as follow:

The independence and neutrality of the military and the judiciary in Tunis. If the separation of powers in Tunis remained unchanged this will ensure a bright democratic future for the country.

The role of the independent civil society organizations, especially the role of the professional syndicates. Such organizations remained neutral and abstained from political participation

The harmony disposition and the sense of responsibility enjoyed by the leaders of the political parties and movements, which created an atmosphere of national unity unaffected by the political disagreements which remained peaceful and civil

While other Arab countries were influenced by external interference in their affairs, Tunis remained immune from such interferences under the pretext of “economic support”. Despite the dire need for economic support at the time, Tunis protected the independence of its political will in last period. Will the Nidaa government continue to do so?

Prospects of the Situation in Tunis

The results announced by the High Authority for Elections revealed that Nidaa came first in the elections, followed by Ennahdha with a 4% margin, while the Free Patriotic Union came third with only 18 seats. This means that the future is for alliances, while smaller parties will need to consider their affiliations. There are several scenarios awaiting the situation in Tunis.

Nidaa party might form the new government alone and might seek to win the presidency as well, since it might enter into a coalition with some parties close to, or with the popular front at best. The government in this scenario shall face major challenges such as the following:

A fragile partnerships within the Nidaa party itself due to different attitudes and political positions, such as the stance regarding Beji Caid el Sebsi. This might lead to splits and dissension within the Nidaa party. It is believed that the leadership of el Sebsi at this point is a step backward in the country.

The security situation and the economy are considered insurmountable challenges facing any government in Tunis. The poor in Tunis, who staged the revolution, have not felt its positive outcomes yet. If the government does not succeed in improving the economy this will prompt a unified opposition that includes the revolutionary parties and other parties negatively impacted by Nidaa party, and that in turn might eventually foment popular protests in the country that could change the status quo.

If Nidaa party and its allies try to amend the new constitutions and change other achievements of the revolution, which might be externally triggered by the economic support of certain countries in the region to influence the political decisions in Tunis, then this will also be met by opposition by other parties and will lead to a troubled political situation.

It is possible as well for the revolutionary powers in Tunis to win the presidential elections, which might save them some face. If this happens, then a sort of equilibrium might be struck, especially in terms of international positions and foreign relationships. In this case, a technocrat government might be formed where most of the cabinets would be reserved for Nidaa party. This scenario is favored by a lot of parties, including Ennahdha. The republican party, led by Moncef Marzouki shall remain in opposition of Nidaa party, and this could form a pressure that might cause the emergence of a third bloc to take on the role of Nidaa party in the next elections. This is the best scenario, since it would widen the scope of political competition to be among three proportionally strong political actors: Destourians, Islamists, and Nationalists, which ensures the progress of democracy in Tunis away from the autocracy of one party

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