Tunisia’s impasse and failed political class

Tunisia’s opposition has confined itself to fighting narrow political battles and has limited itself to one goal: bringing down the opponent by any means necessary.
Sunday 03/06/2018
Gathering clouds. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) attends a meeting with political parties, unions and employers, last January 13. (AFP)
Gathering clouds. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) attends a meeting with political parties, unions and employers, last January 13. (AFP)

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, during a televised address May 29, appeared self-confident and ready for battle. He seemed to possess enough trump cards to carry on with his mission with ease. He was relying on the support of a good number of partisan blocs in parliament and did not shy away from invoking the ghost of international lenders, such as the International Money Fund, or insinuating the possibility of going public with the war on corruption.

However, the political crisis in Tunisia has deepened so much that all major players, including Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, are unable to find a way out of the dead end.

The grim prospects of a paralysing political crisis and of an uncertain future are clear signs of the failure of Tunisia’s political class, including the opposition. None of the parties outside the circle of power have presented themselves as reliable alternatives whom citizens can trust with running the country’s affairs.

The political process known as the Carthage negotiations, initiated by Caid Essebsi and including the governing coalition and several other parties, reached a dead end. It was suspended when the main partners of the government coalition failed to reach a consensus on the political fate of the head of the government — Chahed. At the same time, opposition parties could not come up with an acceptable alternative to Chahed.

There are more than 200 opposition parties in Tunisia. Yet, followers of Tunisian politics are hard-pressed to find real political initiatives, even by the opposition, that can forge a way out of the political crisis. Besides suggesting obscure figures as replacements for Chahed, the opposition had no alternative programme for the country.

The Tunisian opposition in general and the Popular Front and Machrou Tounes in particular seem unable to let go of their ideologies. The reason is simple: Since the beginning, these parties have narrowed their actions and choices to simply opposing the Islamist Ennahda Movement and have failed to delve deeply into the country’s problems. No wonder they could not offer an alternative agenda for the country, an agenda that citizens can identify with and rally behind.

The opposition parties that saw the light after the Tunisian revolution in 2011 or those that have close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, like the Congress for the Republic party of former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, seem unable to renew and change their populist discourse, which is no longer convincing to most Tunisians. Tunisians have had enough of hearing about “the revolution and the counter-revolution” over and over since 2011.

Since the 2014 elections in Tunisia, the country has been rocked by minor political earthquakes in the form of government changes or political initiatives, most coming from Caid Essebsi.

On those occasions, opposition parties did nothing but protest for the sake of protesting. No alternative agendas or visions for the country were put forward. These parties seem to be stuck in a phase of denial, refusing to accept the voting outcomes of the 2014 elections. What this ultimately means is that Tunisia’s nascent democracy is missing an important component: a strong opposition capable of absorbing potential crises even if it remains outside the circles of power.

The two major parties of the governing coalition, Nidaa Tounes and the Ennahda Movement, have cornered themselves. Similarly, the opposition, in addition to lacking a clear alternative vision for the country’s future, has confined itself to fighting narrow political battles and has limited itself to one goal: bringing down the opponent by any means necessary.

The opposition’s vision for the next political phase in Tunisia has been limited to issuing weak political statements. This opposition seems content with being caught up with the national trade union. The Tunisian General Labour Union, however, is a partner in the Carthage Agreement along with the coalition parties.

The power equation in Tunisia remains lopsided. There is no counterbalancing force. This represents a serious threat to the development of true democracy in Tunisia.

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