Drive to remove Ghannouchi as parliament speaker gains traction

Free Destourian Party (PDL) bloc (16 deputies), led by anti-Islamist Abir Moussi, is likely to join the move, giving it the needed quorum for the motion to be signed and brought before a plenary session.
Monday 13/07/2020
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi at a plenary session. (AFP)
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi at a plenary session. (AFP)

TUNIS – Leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party Rached Ghannouchi is facing his toughest test since becoming parliament speaker last November.

Four parliamentary blocs announced their move to withdraw confidence from the Islamist leader, who is accused of abusing his powers and meddling with the country’s foreign policy agenda in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatari-Turkish regional axis.

The Democratic Bloc (Attayar and Echaab parties), the Reform Bloc, the National Bloc and the Tahya Tounes Bloc began a procedure to withdraw confidence from Ghannouchi, according to a statement by the spokesman for the Democratic Current Mohamed Ammar.

It is expected that the Free Destourian Party (PDL) bloc (16 deputies), led by anti-Islamist Abir Moussi, will join the move, giving it the needed quorum for a motion to be signed and brought before a plenary session.

According to Ammar, the move is necessary to put an end to Ghannouchi’s dangerous manoeuvres.

The Islamist leader was most recently criticised after his chief of cabinet, Habib Khedher, intervened to allow a “guest” of the radical Karama Coalition (who was later revealed to be under security watch) to enter the parliament building, provoking an outcry.

Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi was quoted as saying that the so-called guest had returned from a conflict zone and was subject to two security measures on suspicion of threatening public order and national security.

“The minister told us that the man was linked to terrorist organisations. Worse still: in 2005, he was imprisoned in a terrorism case. We are going to file a complaint and the Interior Ministry has promised to provide us with all the necessary information to that effect,” Moussi told reporters.

According to the parliamentary regulations, confidence can be withdrawn from a speaker if a third of MPs request a vote and if a majority of 109 vote is in favour of the motion.

Moussi has repeatedly called for withdrawing confidence from Ghannouchi, accusing him of keeping close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. She has also charged him with abuse of his speaker’s privileges to promote partisan foreign policy agendas.

The leader of the Democratic Bloc, Hichem Ajbouni, said Monday that the Democratic Current will press ahead with the measure to withdraw confidence from Ghannouchi.

Speaking on a local radio, he said it was clear that the Islamist leader will continue with his “catastrophic management” of parliament sessions and affairs and “abuse of power.”

Ajbouni pointed out that his party opted to withdraw confidence from Ghannouchi more than six weeks ago.

MP of the Democratic Bloc Haykel Mekki said on Monday that the motion to withdraw confidence from Ghannouchi has so far been endorsed by 73 deputies.

But there appears to be a divergence of views within the Democratic Current.

On Sunday, the party officially retracted its decision to withdraw confidence, saying it is more important to preserve political stability. The announcement went counter to Ajbouni’s statements, which indicate differences within the ranks of the Democratic Current and some political ambiguity.

For his part, Democratic Current MP Zied Ghanney said that no final decision had been made on the issue and that consultations are continuing to reach an agreement within the party, in a further indication of divisions within the party.

Since Saturday, the PDL’s parliamentary bloc has been observing a sit-in in parliament to call for Ghannouchi’s withdrawal.

In a video published on the PDL’s official Facebook page on Saturday, Moussi assured that the sit-in will not be lifted until necessary measures are taken and an investigation is opened into Ghannouchi and Karama coalition MPs’ alleged ties with terrorist elements.

Moussi said that “giving suspected terrorists access to parliament was a threat to the security and integrity of MPs,” particularly those in the opposition.

Ghannouchi is also accused of interfering in the president and prime minister’s prerogatives in an effort to shore up political power.

According to opposition MPs and media figures, Ghannouchi has abused his position as parliament speaker, which does not give him an official role in foreign policy decision-making.

This has put the Islamist leader in direct confrontation with President Kais Saied, who has gained the support of a large segment of political and civil society forces in his struggle with Ghannouchi, especially on foreign policy issues.