When the Nidaa Tunis party emerged on the Tunisian political scene at the end of 2012, it appeared to be the only possible alternative to the three party coalition formed by the Ennahda party, the coalition led by Moncef Marzouki, and the cluster of parties being led by Mustapha Ben Jaafar. The rhetoric of the new party has already brought together personalities from different walks of life (from the old regime, the political left, trade unionists, feminists and other liberal figures). This mixture of personalities seemed to be the perfect formula for defeating the current of political Islam and its revolutionary forces. In addition, one must note the social tensions emphasised by the Tunisian General Union of Labour.
The new party did not have a specific ideological or political platform, as many believed that the main battle was to wage and win the fight against Islamists perhaps in what would be their electoral victory. It looked to the model implemented by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Egypt: change according to circumstance and not the alleged party animosity. In reality, it appears that the party gained the three largest positions (prime minister, government majority and the constituent assembly). It was at this point that the disagreements began which lead to a strange situation for analysts.
The reality that normally ensues is that a party becomes more united and cohesive after a victory but this was not the case for Nidaa Tunis which began to unravel after a number of parliamentarians formed a separate group with its own agenda. The problem rests with the emergence of two offshoots within one targeted party, one led by Moncef Marzouki. In response, the moderate personalities within the party who had contributed to its formation, began to gradually withdraw from the party and support Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the son of the current President of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi.
Aside from this, the crisis facing the party does not end at the borders of the internal conflict but extends and negatively impacts the performance of the Tunisian government. This began with the attempts to bring down former Prime Minister of Tunisia, Habib Essid, who wanted to leave behind a legacy that was different than that of the ruling parties.
One must end what is happening today by noting the actions of the current Prime Minister, Youssef Chahed. The latest in leaked documents showed the minutes from the party’s most recent meetings revealed the current tensions between Hafedh Caid, his followers and the rest of the party. The latter accused the former of conspiring against the party in an effort to bring down ministers by promoting an atmosphere that would lead to their political failure. The accusations waged against Nidaa Tunis’ opposition are that the party has been prevented from exercising its full potential. What is worth noting in these leaked documents, which are not the first of their kind, are Hafedh Essebsi’s way to foster the image that the relationship between himself and his ally in the government – the Ennahda party – is one based on tensions and chaos and that stability will prevail so long as the old man stays in the presidential palace.
The leaked documents are a source of worry for a number of political analysts from two specific angles. The first is that Nidaa Tunis, if dissolved, will leave behind a political void that cannot be filled at the current moment by any other replacement. This will cause a sense of chaos among the ranks of those who voted for this party. From another angle, governmental performance has been severely weakened due to a growing level of confusion. Youssef Chahed’s visit to Ben Kardan was a case in point for the importance of his presence on the political scene, and the magnitude of his political influence when he found himself in front of a large crowd praising the former Prime Minister Moncef Marzouki.
In addition to what the government is facing with regards to meeting the demands of the labour unions, and the demands of the replacement of the education minister among other ministers, it has been exposed that some ministers and politicians have been making political gains. All of this points to one major thing: the need to review the role of the government based on its performance and its separation from Nidaa Tunis, which is slowly falling apart. The rest is dependent on Beji Caid Essebsi’s continued role as president. The current situation exposes the reality of Tunisian parties in a post-revolutionary society and the challenges facing the democratisation process and its radicalisation.
In exchange, this might be the perfect opportunity for some of the political forces who may now win over Nidaa Tunis’ voters. It is also important to know that the power of the Tunisian political parties is currently suffering from a political impasse and a lack of political mobilisation and organisation on the popular level. The consequences of this will be reflected in the coming elections. Many might abstain from voting unless provided with alternatives.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 17 March 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.