Saturday,24 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Saturday,24 February, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tunisia’s tenuous coalition

Tunisia’s new coalition government will likely receive parliamentary approval, but it may not have much of a future, writes Lassad Ben Ahmed in Tunis

Al-Ahram Weekly

Habib Essid, Tunisia’s prime minister-designate, spent most of last week retracing his steps as his proposals for the country’s new government were shot down even before they went for a vote of confidence in parliament.

When he finally hit upon a line-up for the new government that seemed certain to receive parliamentary approval he must have felt relieved. The proposed new government includes 24 ministers, three ministers without portfolio and 15 secretaries of state. There are seven women, including two ministers and five secretaries of state.

In his first attempt to form a government a week ago, Essid proposed a coalition that excluded the Islamist rivals of the majority Nida Tounes Party, the secularist party that won the recent legislative elections, from power.

This time around he has included one minister from Ennahda, the country’s leading Islamist movement, a move that could help him win parliamentary approval but is likely to muddle government policies, critics say.

Although technocrats form almost 30 per cent of Essid’s proposed cabinet, the rest are politicians from the ruling Nida Tounes Party, Islamist Ennahda Movement, populist Free Patriotic Union and liberal Afek Tounes Party.

Nida Tounes took the lead in the October legislative elections with 81 seats in parliament, leaving Ennahda in second place with 69 seats.

The political compromise Essid has had to make to secure parliamentary approval for the new government may come back to haunt him. The secular views of his core supporters collide with the Islamist views of Ennahda, without whose support Essid will have trouble staying in office.

Political differences between the Islamists and the secularists remain considerable, and the polarisation in the recent elections was intense. Previous attempts by the Islamists to run the country through a coalition formula were less than successful, however.

Essid’s previous attempt to form a cabinet drawn from Nida Tounes and the Free Patriotic Party alone may have pleased some of his secularist supporters, but it was doomed from the start as the two parties could not have secured the 51 per cent majority in parliament needed to run the country.

If Essid now manages to appease his new coalition partners, Ennahda and Afek Tounes, he may have a chance to pass the kind of reforms that Tunisia needs to emerge from its political and economic crisis.

Negotiations preceding Essid’s announcement of the new cabinet were marred with mistrust and accusations, as many members of Nida Tounes and the left-wing Popular Front rejected any coalition with the Islamists on principle.

Such views were made clear during the negotiations and later through demonstrations and sidewalk protests. Secularist opponents of the coalition argue that Ennahda’s ideology clashes with the modern policies Nida Tounes promised voters in the last elections.

Nida Tounes’s secretary-general, Taieb Baccouche, said that Ennahda should remain in opposition. His view is shared by many Nida Tounes parliamentarians, some of whom have threatened to boycott the vote of confidence.

The left-wing Popular Front has refused to take part in a government including Ennahda. Deputy leader Mongui Rahoui claimed that in its current formation the cabinet would be merely a ragtag coalition of conservatives and “mafiosi”.

Nida Tounes officials say that parties that have agreed to take part in the government must abide by the programme of the majority party.

Ennahda has one minister and three secretaries of state in the proposed cabinet. The Free Patriotic Union has three ministers and one secretary of state, and Afek Tounes has three ministers.

It is still a mystery why Ennahda, with its extensive influence, agreed to have only one seat in the cabinet. Some have argued that it does not want Essid’s government to succeed, but would like to stay in the game long enough for it to fail.

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