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Tunisia: Chahed cuts ties with Essebsi to establish a new political project

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed addresses lawmakers durinh the parliament session on vote of confidence for Hisham al-Furati appointed as Minister of the Interior, in Tunis, Tunisia on 28 July, 2018 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed addresses lawmakers in Tunis, Tunisia on 28 July 2018 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

The Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of People voted last Monday, to accept a broad cabinet reshuffle proposed by the Head of the Government Youssef Chahed, although President Beji Caid Essebsi, 92, did not agree on it.

The amendment was supported by Ennahda movement (Islamist- 68 deputies of 217), the Tunis Project party (liberal – 14 deputies) and the National Destourian Initiative Party (constitutional moderate – 3 deputies).

The government amendment was also supported by the National Coalition bloc (40 deputies) and the Social Progressive Democratic Party (moderate left – no deputies).

The Tunisian Constitution allows the Head of the Government to submit any amendment in his government to Parliament, without the approval of the President of the Republic, except the posts of Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

According to experts and politicians, the conflict between Chahed and Essebsi reflects the willingness of the Head of the Government to cut with the “guardianship” of Essebsi, get out of the crisis with his party, Nidaa Tounes (liberal), and to establish a political experience of his own.

Tunisia: New resignations in Nidaa Tounes

Before his appointment as Head of Government by Essebsi, in August 2016, Chahed’s name was highlighted for the first time in the Nidaa Tounes during a crisis that broke out in the party in 2015. The crisis broke out between Hafez Caid Essebsi, son of the president, and the party secretary-general Mohsen Marzouk, and Essebsi assigned Chahed in late November 2015 to lead a committee to find a solution.

The “Committee of 13”, led by Chahed, organised a party conference in the city of Sousse (East) in January 2016, which ended with Hafez’s appointment as executive director of the “Nidaa Tounes” party and excluding Marzouk from the party.

Political analyst, Habib Bouajila, said that “the main reason for the dispute between Chahed and the president is the willingness of Beji Caid Essebsi to perpetuate the establishment of an unconstitutional presidential system.”

“Essebsi succeeded in this with Habib Essid (Head of Government between January 2015 and August 2016), and when Essid expressed his rejectin, Essebsi dismissed him,” Bouajila told Anadolu.  Bouajila listed “the factors that helped Chahed, including that the party on which Essebsi relies (Nidaa Tounes), made mistakes and is no longer attractive, and the formation of a new political scene that does not accept the influence of Carthage (Presidency).”

“The sponsors of Tunisia’s democratic transition in the West no longer accept that Tunisia is traditionally led, where the president and the family are in control,” he said.

Bouajila pointed to the rule of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987: 2011), overthrown by a popular revolution.

Participants in the first and second Carthage dialogues between political forces, who refused to disclose their names, said that the discussion was only to dismiss the Head of the Government, in compliance with the wishes of Hafez Essebsi, the president’s son.

Read: Tunisia president accepts new ministers, easing high-level standoff

The First Carthage Dialogue, in the summer of 2016, resulted in the dismissal of the Head of Government Habib Essid. The Second Carthage Dialogue, last spring, failed to dismiss Chahed after Ennahda movement refused his dismissal.

President Essebsi asked Chahed to resign or put his government to the test of confidence before parliament in more than one occasion last year.

Social researcher, Hisham Al-Haji, said that Essebsi found in Chahed what he did not see in Habib Essid in his willingness to take a distance from Carthage (Presidency).

Al-Hajji told Anadolu that “Chahed wanted to get out of the authority of Essebsi, to exercise his powers, and think about his political future.”

He added that Chahed wanted to move “away from the atmosphere that prevails in the Nidaa Tounes movement, which many see that its reasons are due to the conflict between Chahed and Hafez Essebsi.”

Bouajaila’s analysis of the conflict between Chahed and Essebsi was in line with the view of Sahbi bin Faraj, a deputy of the National Coalition (40 deputies), which is close to Chahed and was founded in August.

The only reason for the dispute between Chahed and Caid Essebsi is Hafez Caid Essebsi, the son of the president

Ben Faraj told Anadolu.

He added that “Hafez Essebsi destroyed Nidaa Tounis and was to destroy the state.”

In light of these developments, and while some expected the president to escalate the dispute towards Chahed, Essebsi’s statements during a press conference at the Carthage Palace last Thursday were aimed at keeping the peace.

Essebsi said that “there is no dispute with the Head of Government, Youssef Chahed.”

He added that “the fate of the government today is in the hands of the parliament, the Assembly of the Representatives of the People… and we should act as required by the Constitution and the honour of the profession and the state where we live.”

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi gives a press conference in Tunis, Tunisia on November 8, 2018 [Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images]

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi gives a press conference in Tunis, Tunisia on November 8, 2018 [Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images]

According to Bouajila, “Essebsi realised that it would be better for him not to be the cause of a crisis or violation of the Constitution at the end of his political career.”

He said that

Essebsi indirectly recognised that he no longer had the cards that he used to have during Habib Essid government era.

The definitive break between Chahed and “Nidaa Tounes” party was clear while voting on the ministerial reshuffle before the parliament last Monday, as the deputies of Nidaa missed the meeting.    Al-Hajji said that “Chahed will not return to Nidaa Tounes, and has brought competencies from the party to his side.”

The ministers of the Nidaa party (8 ministers) did not respond to a call from the party to withdraw from the government.

On Tuesday, the Nidaa party’s parliamentary bloc announced the dismissal of five of its members, reducing the number of deputies from 51 to 46 because of their participation in the vote of confidence session of the ministerial reshuffle.

Al-Hajji added: “It is difficult for Hafez and his supporters to leave Nidaa party. Chahed wants to face his political fate with a new team that has never exercised power or been affiliated with Beji Caid Essebsi as president.”

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Ben Faraj said that “the unfortunate end of the Nidaa Tounes movement, which is about to disappear, has forced the moderate progressive forces to establish a political organisation which represents the majority in the Assembly of the Representatives of the People.”

He said that “there is no longer any possibility of restoring life to Nidaa Tounes or finding any relationship between it and any component of the moderate political parties, especially after it accused every one of the coups against the constitution and the president.”

Ben Faraj said: “The ground is now paved for the establishment of a comprehensive large moderate national party based on competence.”

He added: “It is time for the generation of Youssef Chahed (43 years) and people aged 40 years to 50 years to take the lead and thank their predecessors for establishing the identity of the state.”

Ben Faraj concluded that “from now to the end of the year, this new formation (Chahed party) will be stable on the ground to place Tunisia among the emerging countries, which are economical, socially, and politically developed.”

Tunisian politicians believe that the prospective party, headed by Chahed will be the new rival of Ennahda movement in parliamentary and presidential elections expected in 2019.

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