Pressuring Tunisian PM to resign, Ennahda accused of ‘blackmail’

Islamist party wants Fakhfakh to submit to its will or resign.
Friday 10/07/2020
A file picture shows Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaking during a parliamentary session last month. (AFP)
A file picture shows Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaking during a parliamentary session last month. (AFP)

TUNIS – Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda Movement, headed by Rached Ghannouchi, has stepped up its pressure on Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, with the aim of forcing him to submit to its will or resign.

Tunisian political sources described Ennahda’s call for Fakhfakh’s resignation as a blatant form of “blackmail” that is not out of context of its manoeuvres aimed at extending its influence over the government and enabling it to take control of the entire joints of the state.

Abdelkarim Harouni, head of the Islamist party’s Shura Council, criticised Fakhfakh for failing to respond to the party’s demand of expanding the composition of his government. An expanded government coalition would help Ennahda shape a more favourable balance in parliament.

Harouni said in radio statements that Ennahda, which holds 54 seats in the 217-seat legislative assembly, “will continue to seek formation of a broad government formation that will ensure stability.”

“Our cause is not partisan, and we are not in the process of establishing a system of quotas,” he added, “but we have election results (on our side) and we want to cooperate in order to serve the country.”

Tunisian political sources considered Harouni’s statements misleading, especially his claims that his movement “has shown a lot of patience with Fakhfakh’s choices, who continues to adhere to the current composition of his government and is not ready to expand it.”

Harouni insisted that “the government coalition did not succeed,” explaining that power is a tool to serve the country. “So I advise Elyes Fakhakh to quit,” he said.

Ennahdha’s ambiguous “advice” to Fakhfakh reflects the pent-up tension in the movement’s political discourse, as it feeds the conflict between the components of the ruling coalition to serve its interests. Its moves are taking place against the background of a silent crisis between Tunisian President Kais Saied and Ghannouchi. The crisis is creating a power vacuum in the government and putting the country on the edge.

Ennahda realises that no one can now bear the burden of this vacuum, especially as it is trying to put the blame for the negative consequences of this political tension, as well as the country’s economic difficulties, on the prime minister.

A Tunisian politician and former minister in previous cabinets considered Harouni’s advice not unrelated to Ennahda’s ambiguous agendas as he opened the gates for a new controversy when he hinted that “some parties in the government coalition are afraid of expanding the government, such as the Democratic Current Party, and the People’s Movement Party,” and that his movement’s Shura Council “will be meeting this coming Sunday to take the appropriate decision regarding the prime minister.”

“This characterisation, which was accompanied by direct accusations against the most prominent components of the government coalition, does not bear many surprises that can upset expectations and alter the balance of public opinion,” the Tunisian politician told The Arab Weekly.

For his part, MP Mustafa Ben Ahmed, a leader in Tahya Tounes party, called on Harouni, and by extension Ennahda, to stop with such blatant political games that could only confuse the general political scene in the country.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Ben Ahmed advised the Chairman of Ennahdha’s Shura Council to keep silent, because whenever he spoke, he caused political controversy and kicked off unnecessary and untimely political dust.

“He (Harouni) should have addressed his advice to Ennahda’s ministers in Fakhfakh’s cabinet, and consequently Ennahda should ask them to withdraw from the government, in an approach that would confuse the plans of this movement which are adjusted and changed according to prevailing political equations and are not free of political blackmail,” Ben Ahmed said.

Ennahda is part of the current government, which won the confidence of parliament on February 27 with a majority of 129 votes. It has seven ministers out of the 29 cabinet members, while the Democratic Current Party has three ministers, Tahya Tounes and the People’s Movement have two ministries each, and Al-Badeel and Nida Tounes have one minister each. The remaining cabinet members have been described as either independent or affiliated with Ennahda.

MP Haykal Mekki, a leader in the pan-Arabist People’s Movement Party, which holds 15 parliamentary seats, did not hesitate to call on Ennahda “to put the country’s interest before any other consideration.”

“Citizens are tired of waiting for the output of Ennahdha’s Shura Council,” Mekki said, “and the problem is not with Fakhfakh’s file but rather lies with Ennahda Movement.”

In radio statements, Mekki said that “if Elias Fakhfakh decided to offer his loyalty to Ennahdha, for example by agreeing to expand the government coalition and enabling it to control the administration, we would have heard another discourse and other perceptions.”