In tenuous position, Tunisian PM said to strike ‘deal’ with Ghannouchi
TUNIS – Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh’s speech at the Tunisian Parliament failed to dispel fears among Tunisian political circles of secret understandings between him and the head of the Islamist Ennahdha Movement and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi that would tie the fate of Fakhfakh’s current government to the outcome of Ghannouchi’s manoeuvres in his disagreement with President Kais Saied.
The scope of the disagreement between the men has widened due to differences of opinion and stances between them on several local issues as well as a number of regional and international issues.
Fakhfakh gave his speech to parliament during a general session Thursday devoted to assessing the performance of his government over the course of its first 100 days. It did not, however, alleviate fears and concerns fuelled by leaks and hints that were strongly reflected in the interventions of many deputies who did not hesitate to demand his resignation and the disclosure of his “deal” with Ennahdha in order to secure its endorsement.
Iyadh Elloumi, a MP from the Qalb Tounes party, did not mince his words and straightforwardly asked the prime minister to resign. “Mr. Prime Minister, you must resign ... And we will not wait for you to do that. We will introduce a reprimand petition, we will withdraw confidence from you and we will sue you,” Elloumi told Fakhfakh.
For his part, MP Safi Saied described the prime minister's speech as “shaken” and unconvincing and urged him to stop talking of government victories because they simply are “false and illusory."
The MPs’ anger and dissatisfaction coincided with a petition to withdraw confidence from the government being circulated by a group of members of parliament, brought about by their total dissatisfaction with Fakhfakh’s speech. Sources inside the parliament said that 50 MPs have signed the petition until now, knowing that it needs the signature of 73 MPs to become officially eligible for discussion and voting in an exceptional public session devoted to that and which must be scheduled by the parliament’s office.
Leader of Ennahda's parliamentary bloc, MP Samir Dilou, confirmed that his party is not a party to this petition. Although the parliament session was particularly tumultuous from a political perspective, Fakhfakh seemed confident about his future and even confirmed that he will remain prime minister until next year.
Fakhfakh said that he will return to parliament next year to present his government’s new programme for saving the country from its economic crisis. Such a statement goes against the prevailing political mood in the country and the almost unanimous view that his government, with its current party composition, has no political future in light of the deep cleavages plaguing it.
Fakhfakh’s assertion about the future of his government has fuelled growing speculation about last-minute understandings believed to have taken place between him and Ghannouchi, particularly when the pending complex and intertwined issues that are dividing the already disunited government coalition in the parliament argue against that assertion. The prime minister's problems do not stop at those divisions, but go beyond them to touch some other repercussions that threaten his career and political future.
Indeed, the repercussions in question relate to the outcomes of further investigations of a suspicion of a conflict of interest in the case of one of Fakhfakh’s private companies being awarded a huge government contract in the field of investing in the environment. This case comes to add ethical burdens to the prime minister’s problems, exposing him to a storm of criticism from all directions and reducing his manoeuvring space on the one hand, and giving Ennahdha a window of opportunity to put further pressure on him, weaken his position and push him to disengage from his ties to Saied.
All of these considerations have cast a suspicious shadow over Fakhfakh’s apparent confidence about his political future as premiere and reinforced concerns over the existence of “some kind of a deal," especially in light of persistent talk of “mysterious” movements that preceded the general session in parliament and which was accompanied by leaks about unannounced meetings that were said to have taken place between Fakhfakh and Ghannouchi.
It has been leaked that a meeting took place between Ghannouchi and Fakhfakh lasting until three o'clock in the morning of Thursday. This meeting followed an official dinner gala celebrating the 64th anniversary of the founding of the Tunisian army on Wednesday evening. The president, prime minister and parliament speaker were all seated at the same table, their first get-together since an iftar dinner held last Ramadan.
According to the leaks, the meeting between Ghannouchi and Fakhfakh ended with Fakhfakh submitting to Ennahdha’s “diktats” in exchange for keeping him as prime minister and providing him with the parliamentary majority needed to pass his government programme. Among these diktats, we find removing the People's Movement Party from the government coalition and bringing in the Qalb Tounes Party.
Parallel to this, close associates of the prime minister have been behind a series of other leaks hinting that Saied may have asked Fakhfakh to resign, so that he would have to proceed with designating a new prime minister and forming a new government, thus halting Ghannouchi's manoeuvres aimed at returning control of forming a new government to his party.
In his manoeuvres, Ghannouchi does not exclude his aim of confusing Saied’s strategy and weakening his position rejecting the political approach related to the nature and form of the government proposed by Ennahdha for ending the current political crisis, especially after Saied’s declaration that expanding the government coalition in accordance with Ennahdha’s vision “will lead to the disintegration of Fakhfakh’sgovernment.”
Within the context of the current scene where Ghannouchi's manoeuvres fuel multiple hypotheses of a “deal” that would redraw the current political reality in accordance with a new agenda, Haikal Mekki, a MP from the People’s Movement party, did not hesitate to say, “I fear that this matter is Ennahdha’s attempt to subjugate and blackmail Fakhfakh.”