Beji Caid Essebsi could be the only one capable of saving Nidaa Tounes from its divisions

The biggest bone of contention has always been the leadership of the party itself.
Sunday 15/07/2018
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi attends a news conference in Tunis. (Reuters)
Critical juncture. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi attends a news conference in Tunis. (Reuters)

Nidaa Tounes is undergoing a war of declarations and counterpunches with allegations of political treason and profound irregularities. The party is obviously unable to manage its internal debate, let alone control and patch up the divergence of opinions at its core.

The declaration by party members dissatisfied with Hafedh Caid Essebsi’s leadership and with the party’s public discourse is serious political statement challenging what remains of the Nidaa Tounes party structure.

Not only was it made by founding and central figures of the party but it stripped the party leadership of its legitimacy, returning it to the party’s political bureau. The statement set a date for the next party congress and appointed as a new party spokeswoman.

There are indications of a profound split inside Nidaa Tounes. While the party has previously seen the wilful departure of leading members (Mohsen Marzouk, Ridha Belhaj and Said Aidi), the current dissatisfaction movement has the signs of a collective grumble and involves leading party figures.

The camp behind Nidaa Tounes Executive Director Hafedh Caid Essebsi — the son of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who had founded the party — has described dissatisfied members of the political bureau as a putschist minority and stripped them of the right to speak for the party or make decisions in its name.

That, however, does not change the fact that the party is going through a deep crisis. Since the departure of Beji Caid Essebsi (after he was elected president), the party has not found a leader who can create the needed consensus and harmony inside it.

It is true that Nidaa Tounes has been in a feverish state since the 2014 elections. The party’s leadership had to deal with managing the party’s alliance with its Islamist adversary Ennahda Movement, settling internal party conflicts and playing an active role in governing the country in extremely challenging conditions.

With each issue, the divergence of opinion and orientation sapped the party’s synergy.

The party progressed to a stage of self-doubt coupled with misgivings about how it is being run. Presidential and general elections are drawing near and it has become doubtful whether Nidaa Tounes can repeat its clear electoral victories of 2014.

Part of the party’s internal feuds centres on the fate of the current governmental team and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. However, the biggest bone of contention has always been the leadership of the party itself.

One camp wants to see Hafedh Caid Essebsi removed so new life can be breathed in the party. The other camp wants to maintain the founder’s son at the helm of the party, even though there is no comparison between father and son in terms of experience, leadership and charisma.

Nidaa Tounes was the party that brought balance to the Tunisian political scene and, yet, it is failing to bring its various wings together. It was the party that drove Ennahda out of power and made it pledge allegiance to Tunisia first but it is currently giving the Islamist movement fodder to build an advantage in the 2019 elections.

Nidaa Tounes desperately needs to find the right person to re-establish the party’s internal cohesion and plan for its next congress. The only person capable of doing that is Beji Caid Essebsi himself.