Ghannouchi survives no-confidence vote but standing is shaken

The 97 votes in favour of the no-confidence motion illustrated the scope of the opposition he faces and the growing doubts about his ability to continue his term until next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2024.
Thursday 30/07/2020
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi speaks at a press conference following the parliament’s plenary session in Tunis, July 30. (AFP)
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi speaks at a press conference following the parliament’s plenary session in Tunis, July 30. (AFP)

TUNIS – The draft motion to withdraw confidence from Tunisia’s Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, was rejected Thursday, collecting 97 votes in favour and 16 against.

Though Ghannouchi survived the no-confidence vote, the slim margin of victory showed that the Islamist camp and its embattled leader will now have to reckon with a vociferous opposition within parliament and an acutely polarised atmosphere outside.

The number of declared votes was 133, with 18 invalid ballots and 2 blank ones, second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Tarek Fetiti announced, amid cheers and applause from the deputies of the Islamist Ennahda Movement, who sang the national anthem.

The plenary session, which was supposed to be conducted without debate to hold a vote by secret ballot, took place in a heated atmosphere, marked by altercations and exchange of accusations between deputies.

The time given for the plenary, which was to be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., was not respected as the session started late and lasted for several hours.

After the vote, deputies of the Democratic Bloc and the National Reform disputed the fact that the number of the ballots distributed did not correspond to the number of ballots cast in the ballot box.

Some deputies demanded that the list of those who took ballots and did not put them back in the ballot box be revealed.

On their part, deputies of Ennahda and Al Karama Coalition denounced the pressure exerted on deputies at the time of voting, and criticised the shooting of ballots with mobile phones, which, as they claimed, undermined the secrecy of the vote.

The atmosphere remained tense during the count and when the results were announced.

“Despite tensions and provocations, the operation was transparent and the vote was democratic,” said Fetiti.

Although Ghannouchi’s hailed his narrow escape from the no-confidence vote as a  “great day for democracy”, the outcome of the ballot may indicate that Ennahda will now face fiercer opposition in parliament, potentially complicating its attempts to pass crucial draft bills and agree on a new government.

Abir Moussi, leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), casts her vote during the plenary session at the parliament in Tunis, July 30. (AFP)
Abir Moussi, leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), casts her vote during the plenary session at the parliament in Tunis, July 30. (AFP)

The 97 votes in favour of the draft motion illustrated the scope of the opposition faced by a weakened Islamist leader and the growing doubts about his ability to continue his term until the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2024.

Commenting the vote results, leader of the Free Doustourian Party (PDL) Abir Moussi said, the “betrayal [of some democratic forces] put Ghannouchi in the position of parliament speaker, and the same betrayal saved him today.”

Moussi explained that the vote was all played out through abstentions and invalid ballots, with some deputies ticking both yes and no.

She stressed that even though Ghannouchi remains at the head of parliament, he has now lost all legitimacy.

“This parliament is not Islamist and we have seen the proof of this today,” said Moussi, calling on Ghannouchi to no longer preside over sessions of parliament – “a parliament that had already rejected him.”

Despite the loss of the final vote, Abir Moussi has gained new de facto allies in parliament with the adhesion of other blocs to her anti-Islamist stances.

Experts believe that Ghannouchi now knows that his management of parliamentary affairs has been divisive and disruptive, which could lead to more tensions and disputes and threaten the whole legislature if the current state of affairs continues as it is.

“Whatever the outcome, the draft motion against the parliament speaker is a first since the country’s independence. Ghannouchi has already lost politically. What an affront!” said former Tunisian deputy Leila Hamrouni ahead of the announcement of the vote results.

Civil society activist Aida Ben Chaabane, seemed to agree saying: “Everyone knows the real size of the Ennahda party, which does not represent more than 10% of the Tunisian people,” she said.

“For those who talk about democracy, they must know that Ennahda’s exit from power is a popular demand. The question, however, remains: When will this party revise its strategic options because, so far, Ennahda has decided to be non-Tunisian in its policies, serving the objectives of the Ottoman Empire,” Chaabane wrote on her official Facebook account.

While Ghannouchi has now to deal with the silent hostility of President Kais Saied  who has not warning that he might eventually resort to dissolving parliament, which is already rocked by divisions, disputes and protests.

He has good reason for concern: New elections could weaken Ennahda’s influence, giving it less seats than its political archrival, the Free Doustourian Party (PDL) of Abir Moussi.

New elections could also cause Ghannouchi’s allies — Qalb Tounes and Al Karama coalition –to emerge weaker, jeopardising his prospects of again securing the role of speaker.

Recent polls have already shown Ennahda to be losing steam. According to the latest Emrhod Consulting poll, the PDL enjoys, for the first time, more support than the Islamist party.

The PDL, led by Moussi, has 28% support among prospective voters, followed by Ennahda (23%), Qalb Tounes (17%), and the Democratic Current (8%). The Karama Coalition, a radical Islamist group allied with Ennahda, has lost 3 percentage points in just one month, going from 7% to 4%.

In recent months, Tunisia’s political forces have been vocally critical of Ghannouchi’s suspicious moves and practices, including his alleged attempt to advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.

The Islamist leader is also accused of serious violations, including poor management of parliamentary procedures and making unilateral decisions. He was also criticised for abuse of authority and infringing on the prerogatives of President Kais Saied.

The opposition parties — the Democratic Bloc, Tahya Tounes, the National Reform, the National Bloc and the PDL — also believe that Ghannouchi has a conflict of interest due to his serving as both Ennahda leader and parliament speaker.