Zbidi pledges to get to bottom of ‘secret apparatus’ and political assasinations

“I promise to open the file of the ‘secret security apparatus’ and get to the bottom of it," said Defence Minister and presidential candidate Abdelkrim Zbidi.
Saturday 07/09/2019
Tunisian presidential candidate Abdelkrim Zbidi speaks during an interview at his office in Tunis. (AFP)
A different approach. Tunisian presidential candidate Abdelkrim Zbidi speaks during an interview at his office in Tunis. (AFP)

The campaign in the presidential race in Tunisia kicked off September 2. Abdelkrim Zbidi, a candidate in the race, promised, if elected, to reopen the file of the alleged secret security apparatus of the Islamist Ennahda Movement and reveal its mysteries.

Zbidi also described the political system in Tunisia as a “hybrid” and said it should be reformed through a popular referendum.

Zbidi said: “There is no dispute about the fact that our political system is a hybrid. It is neither a parliamentary system nor a presidential one. It is an impromptu and arbitrary mixture between two systems whose paradoxes and loopholes have become clear through experience.

“One of these paradoxes is the fact that the president of the republic, who is elected by popular vote, has less authority than the president of the government (the prime minister), who is appointed.”

Zbidi said: “There must be constitutional mechanisms to change our political and electoral system, since the latter system has been shown to contain flaws and gaps. Perhaps the most appropriate constitutional tool to adopt would be a popular referendum but that does not exclude the possibility of resorting to other mechanisms.”

Zbidi, 69, chose “Loyalty to Tunisia, Loyalty to the Homeland” as his campaign slogan. He is regarded as a distinguished statesman, having held many government positions and ministerial portfolios, the most recent of which was minister of defence.

Zbidi is running as an independent candidate but has received the backing of several parties, including Nidaa Tounes and Afaq Tounes, members of parliament and political, intellectual and academic figures who have formed the National Coalition to support Zbidi.

He enjoys remarkably strong popular support and is seen by a large segment of the public as the rightful successor of the late President Beji Caid Essebsi. This is likely to give his candidacy an edge during the early stage of the race when positions and proportions are not clearly delineated because of embroiled and interlocked equations in the Tunisian political scene.

Zbidi emerged as a candidate advocating approaches different in form and content from what transpired during Caid Essebsi’s presidency.

The five pledges he announced reflect those new approaches, which are not outside the box of the aspirations of the centrist, modernist and civil forces in the country, especially concerning the relationship with Ennahda and controversial issues, such as “the secret security apparatus.”

Zbidi said Ennahda “is an objective part of the political and party scene in Tunisia and dealing with it will be in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, laws and institutional mechanisms, just like with any other component of the political scene in the country.”

He, however, pledged, if elected, “as president of the republic, to unravel the mysteries of the file of the secret apparatus.”

Asked about demands that he reveal secrets of the file as minister of defence, Zbidi said that request “reflects a confusion and a needless escalation because I am still under the obligation of confidentiality even though I have left all of the state institutions and besides this issue is not related to the Ministry of Defence alone but touches other ministries, institutions, authorities and agencies.”

Zbidi insisted that “the position of the president of the republic is the only state post authorised to bring all of this under investigation and arbitration by the law,” pointing out his eagerness to be fair to other candidates because he said that if he starts this issue at this stage of the campaign, he “would be breaking the principle of equal chances for all candidates and unethically exploiting my (former) ministerial position in my election campaign.”

“This option also applies to the political assassinations that the country has experienced,” Zbidi said.

Regarding foreign policy issues, Zbidi said: “The internal fighting in Libya, which is sometimes fed by external parties, will not work... Our brothers in Libya have unfortunately become caught in this dilemma and that has created for us in Tunisia additional pressure and threat… So, I’m going to work on pushing the agenda of a national dialogue under regional and international guidance and supervision… There is no other choice but this one. Libya is a dear neighbour and its security is ours and vice versa.”

Zbidi said Tunisia's presidency of the Arab summit “represents an appropriate platform for Tunisian diplomacy to contribute to the prospects of a solution to all crises in the region, a solution that, once again, can only be achieved by a dialogue based on a patriotic spirit in our opinion.”

The same applies to Tunisia's non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Zbidi said he was keen to use this opportunity to defend Tunisia’s interests and support Arab issues by pushing for solutions to them, considering the situations in the Palestinian territories, Libya and Syria need urgent attention.

Zbidi is outlining his prospective actions should he become president, starting with trying to reform Tunisia’s internal situation in accordance with the constitution but not ending with using Tunisian diplomacy more effectively despite the complexity of the regional and international agendas.