Trust in Tunisia's Islamist party sinks after power grab

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi also ranked as the most mistrusted politician in the country, according to the poll results.
Wednesday 20/11/2019
Tunisian Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi (R) chairs the first session of the new parliament following October elections, on November 13. (AFP)
Tunisian Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi (R) chairs the first session of the new parliament following October elections, on November 13. (AFP)

TUNIS - Despite growing influence, the Islamist Ennahda Movement, led by incoming parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, is the most mistrusted political party in Tunisia, opinion polls indicate.

Ennahda, which gained power in parliament and the government following October’s legislative elections, is viewed negatively by 50% of Tunisians, a survey by Tunisian firm Sigma Conseil said after the elections.

Secularist parties Nidaa Tounes and Qalb Tounes were viewed negatively by 49% and 40% of Tunisians, respectively, poll results stated.

More than 30% of Tunisians questioned said they also view outgoing Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s Tahya Tounes party negatively. Tahya Tounes aligned itself with Ennahda in parliament and the government.

Tunisians’ sceptical view of Ennahda raised questions about the country’s stability as it weathers social and economic crises that the main political parties have struggled to reverse.

To boost the economy, Tunisia will need to implement painful measures, including trimming subsidies and reducing the public sector workforce. It will also need to address high inflation and youth unemployment that is driving many of Tunisia’s young people to seek work overseas.

Ghannouchi, the first Islamist to head parliament since Tunisia’s independence 64 years ago, is the most mistrusted politician in the country, poll results suggested. More than two-thirds of Tunisian respondents said they harboured "the highest degree of mistrust" about Ghannouchi, Sigma Conseil said.

Ghannouchi, 78, was elected speaker November 13 after the rival Qalb Tounes made a U-turn and forged an alliance with the Islamist party. Both parties had pledged not to work with the other.

Qalb Tounes leader Nabil Karoui, who finished second in presidential elections despite being jailed on charges of corruption and money laundering, remains “overshadowed by suspicions of corruption,” the poll showed.

Karoui is distrusted by 57% of those polled, the Sigma survey said.

Ennahda’s alliance with Qalb Tounes came as the Islamist party struggled to form a government after winning 52 parliamentary seats in the election. Qalb Tounes was second, securing 38 seats in the 217-member parliament.

Qalb Tounes joined the far-right Islamist Karama coalition, which has 21 seats, and other independent conservative deputies to vote Ghannouchi in as speaker.

The poll indicated that leftist Popular Front leader Hamma Hammami was the second least trusted figure, the poll stated. Hammami is disliked by Islamists and their conservative allies for spearheading a campaign to investigate Ennahda over allegations it played a role in the assassination of two secularist opposition leaders in 2013.

Hammami also drew criticism from leftists for failing to unite the Popular Front. Hammami and Popular Front figure Mongi Rahoui both ran in the first round of presidential elections but neither took as much as 1% of the vote.

Leading Ennahda figure Ali Laarayedh, who served as Interior minister and prime minister in 2012 and 2013, was mistrusted by many Tunisians, the poll results stated. He is widely seen as the most likely to succeed Ghannouchi after Ghannouchi’s mandate as party leader ends this year.

Parliament member Abir Moussi, president of the fiercely anti-Islamist Free Destourian Party and a rare defender of ousted former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is the fifth most mistrusted politician, the survey determined.

Ennahda's declining popularity reflects its loss in voter support even as it shores up power in state institutions. The party won 400,000 votes in the 2019 elections after totalling 1.5 million in 2011.

Political writer Sofiene Ben Hamida expressed pessimism about the growing influence of Ennahda, which selected former junior agriculture minister Habib Jemli as prime minister.

"We have liars in the government now after we had the dummies in past governments," said Ben Hamida, adding that the incoming prime minister is an Ennahda sympathiser rather than an independent figure as they suggest.

"A mere look into the official page of Ennahda on social media shows that Ennahda described Jemli as a member of Ennahda on December 11, 2011, when the Islamist party named Jemli as junior agriculture minister in its government. By calling Jemli independent, Ennahda goes beyond lying," Ben Hamida said.

"As for his skills and diplomas, his academic qualification and credentials are related to one speciality: breeding camels.”

Other analysts and Ennahda critics said the party’s shifting alliances were part of its plan to monopolise power.

"Despite what Ghannouchi says, Ennahda does not swerve from its path and agenda: forging consensus with rivals to rule," said university instructor Slaheddine Dchicha.

"On its climb towards more power, Ennahda phagocytes and overshadows its rivals. Who remembers its unfortunate allies: the Congress for the Republic, Ettakatol, Nidaa Tounes?" he added, naming political parties that were significantly weakened after an alliance with Ennadha.

The poll, however, indicated that Tunisians maintain a high level of confidence in recently inaugurated President Kais Saied, who was elected with more than 70% of the vote, as well as the military and police.