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Who is to blame for Tunisia’s political stalemate?

Chairman of Ennahda Movement’s Consultative Council in Tunisia, Abdelkarim Harouni [Abdelkarim Harouni/Facebook]
Chairman of Ennahda Movement’s Consultative Council in Tunisia, Abdelkarim Harouni [Abdelkarim Harouni/Facebook]

On Friday evening, Tunisia’s Ennahda movement announced its withdrawal from the talks on the formation of the government. “Ennahda has decided not to take part in the government or in a vote of confidence,” the Head of the movement’s Shura Council, Abdelkarim Harouni, told a press conference.

Next day, Prime Minister designate Elyes Fakhfakh proposed the line-up of his government, blaming Ennahda for the possible failure of his task. “This decision [to withdraw] will put the country in a difficult situation,” he said. However, he pointed out that he would return to the movement for more discussions in the coming days, in the hope of getting its support once again.

It is not only Ennahda, which holds 53 out of 217 parliamentary seats, that would not vote for the proposed government, but also the other large parliamentarian blocs, the Heart of Tunisia, with 38 seats; the Free Destourian Party, 17 seats; and the Coalition for Dignity Party, 21 seats. All said that they would not have confidence in Fakhfakh’s government.

Thus, the government would either fall or get a very weak vote of confidence and would never be able to take any significant decisions or carry out essential reformation programmes. Either way, the country is facing a political and constitutional dilemma. If the government fails, the country is going to another election immediately, whereas if it gets approval, Tunisia faces an election in six months at the latest.

READ: Tunisia talks on cabinet press on amid risk of new election

“Fakhfakh’s government will not pass because it lacks enough parliamentarian and political support,” Tunisian journalist Abdel-Ra’uf Bali told MEMO. “If it is approved, it would not be strong enough to carry out effective reformation which needs good support from parliament. As such, it will not survive more than six months.”

Other observers say that if the government fails, President Qais Saied will choose a caretaker government and this would also be very weak for the same reasons. What’s more, Saied does not belong to any political party and so his efforts are futile.

In what is a very gloomy political situation, the London-based Tunisian researcher Tayyip Al-Ghaylouli stressed that the country is “inevitably” heading to another election. This would place heavy political, economic, social and diplomatic burdens on Tunisia and its people, but who is to blame, Ennahda or Qais Saied?

Ennahda’s nominee as Prime Minister, Lahbib Jemli, failed to get approval for his government last month. The movement says that it hopes to see a government with wide support from parliament in order to be strong and able to face the challenges ahead. “We are keen for the government to continue to succeed in overcoming the economic and social challenges and to have stability in parliament,” explained Harouni. It insists on having Heart of Tunis, the second largest party in parliament, represented in the government.

READ: Tunisia Ennahda Movement says they will not grant trust to Fakhfakh’s government

However, some claim that the withdrawal of Ennahda is related to the dispute over the size of its representation in the government and the ministries. It certainly has the right to request control over a large number of ministries, including some of the major offices of state, to match its presence in parliament. Ennahda, however, wants to join a government which includes all parties.

Al-Ghaylouli blames the president, citing his request from Fakhfakh to exclude Heart of Tunisia from his proposed government. “Qais Saied asked for this because the leader of Heart of Tunisia is Nabil Al-Qarawi, Saied’s competitor for the presidency,” he pointed out.

He added that the president is mobilising popular support to turn the political parties down, citing Saied’s meeting with Noureddine Taboubi, the head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT). Al-Ghaylouli expects Ennahda to be obliged to approve the government in order not to be seen as the party which undermines the political process, as well as to foil Saied’s plots.

Meanwhile, Abdel-Ra’uf Bali accused Saied of working “intentionally” to have a government which could never pass a vote of confidence in parliament. “Choosing Fakhfakh proves that Saied himself does not want the government to be approved because the prime minister designate lacks the national consensus which guarantees parliamentary support for his government,” the journalist told MEMO.

He noted that Saied has imposed his conditions on Fakhfakh, which angered Ennahda and the other parties. “Saied asked Fakhfakh to exclude Heart of Tunisia and the Free Destourian Party before starting his talks on the formation of the government,” he said. “During the discussion, Saied also asked Fakhfakh to exclude the Coalition for Dignity Party.”

The reason for this, claimed Bali, is that Saied does not have a political party and does not believe in the parliamentary system. “He is doing his best to prove to the Tunisians that the parliamentary system is not appropriate for them in order to get the support he needs for his plans. According to Bali, Saied prefers the system of popular committees used by the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Both Bali and Al-Ghaylouli said that the election law, which was ratified in 2014, is a problem because it distorts political authority by dividing it into three bodies: parliament, the president and the prime minister, which makes all three weak. In a case where the parliament is fragmented and the president does not belong to any political party, the situation becomes critical.

READ: Prime Minister designate fails to get support of Tunisia’s largest party

Al-Ghaylouli said that the president in Tunisia is weak because his power is limited; the parliament is weak because the election law does not give the chance for the large parties to get an absolute majority; and the prime minister is weak whether he is from a political party represented in parliament or from the presidency.

If he belongs to a political party, he is weak because his party is unable to afford him strong support for major decisions, and if he is the president’s man, he is unable to garner parliamentary support for major decisions.

No matter who is to blame, the losers are the Tunisian people, said Al-Ghaylouli. “They are the victims of the power play by the deep state and the external interference which aims to keep the Islamist Ennahda weak and ineffective or out of power completely.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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