Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

The troika falters

The creation of a new opposition coalition is putting pressure on Tunisia’s troika government, writes Lassad Ben Ahmed in Tunis

Al-Ahram Weekly

As Tunisia’s ruling troika government falters, unable to agree on a cabinet reshuffle, the country’s opposition has been continuing to close ranks in a way that could change the political map in the next elections.

Three of Tunisia’s major opposition parties, the Tunisia Call, Republican Party and Path Party, have created a coalition called Unity for Tunisia that is expected also to include the Democratic Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party in future, forming a five-party alliance that could become a serious contender to the Islamist Nahda Party in the upcoming elections.

Analysts believe that the new coalition is unlike its predecessors or the ruling troika of three main parties including the Nahda because it combines centrist forces and well-known political figures in Tunisia like Ahmed Naguib Al-Shabi, Al-Baji Caid Al-Sebsi and Ahmed Ibrahim.

Al-Shabi was the head of the Progressive Democratic Party before it expanded to become the Republican Party, and he has been tipped to win the next presidential elections as one of the most highly regarded politicians on the scene today.

Al-Sebsi is also highly respected by many Tunisians because he is a self-confessed follower of Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president and the man who led the independence struggle against French colonial rule.

Al-Sebsi is also widely credited with succeeding in leading the country’s first transitional phase after the flight of former president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali in the January 2011 Revolution, as well as organising the first free-and-fair elections in the country’s history.

Al-Sebsi has succeeded in gathering many of the supporters of the former ruling party, the now-dissolved Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), and he is also seen as someone who could do well in Tunisia’s upcoming elections.

Ibrahim is also a veteran politician, and he was the leader of the Renewal Party before becoming the head of the only coalition to take part in the previous elections under the banner of the Democratic Modernist Rally.

Today, he is a member of the largest coalition in democratic Tunisia.

Analysts believe that the new Unity for Tunisia coalition formed of the three opposition parties will benefit from considerable synergies. Al-Shabi would benefit from Tunisia Call’s electoral base, something which he lacks, and Al-Sebsi could find an outlet for the remnants of the dissolved former ruling party in the new coalition, something that he needs given that the troika government is planning to pass a law excluding figures from the previous regime from holding political posts.

This law has been approved by committees of the country’s Constituent Assembly, and it is expected to be ratified over the next few days.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim could achieve political victory for the first time as a result of his participation in the new coalition, as well as the possibility of bringing together leftist forces that share his positions and ideology.

The creation of the new coalition also coincides with a crisis inside the ruling troika government, which has thus far failed to agree on an expected cabinet shuffle.

Consultations for the reshuffle began last summer during the Nahda Party congress, and it has become a pressing popular demand, especially after the poor performance of several cabinet members and the need to make key ministries non-partisan before the next elections.

Incumbent Nahda Prime Minister Hamadi Al-Jibali has tried to expand the government’s ruling base by including other parties outside the troika coalition, but his suggestions have been unsuccessful, especially regarding the ministries of justice and foreign affairs.

The Congress for the Republic Party and the Bloc Party, both members of the troika coalition, have insisted that these two ministries should be assigned to non-partisan figures, while the Nahda itself has been adamant about keeping key ministries for itself and refusing to submit to “blackmail”, according to Sahbi Atig, head of the Nahda bloc in the Constituent Assembly.

The Nahda allies have threatened to withdraw from the government and join the opposition if a consensus cannot be reached, and this would jeopardise the current majority and create a serious political crisis if the government’s majority in the Assembly were lost.

The Nahda has prepared for this eventuality, however, since in addition to the 89 seats it holds in the Assembly it has also succeeded in attracting several independent figures and smaller parties that would make up for possible lost votes from its allies.

This explains some statements by Nahda leaders, such as Health Minister Abdel-Latif Al-Mekki, who has said that the entire political scene could be overhauled.

Meanwhile, as new political forces emerge and older ones fade away, economic and social conditions in the country remain fragile and turbulent.

Last month, there were rumours that the government had run out of money to pay state employees, though this was denied by official channels. However, the government is entering talks with the IMF in order to discuss possible loans, an unprecedented move for Tunisia.

In the past, Tunis has only relied on the IMF for technical assistance in order to help achieve an overall economic balance.

Negotiations between Tunis and the IMF have resulted in the earmarking of $1.78 billion in reserves that would be disbursed in the case of an economic shock from abroad.

Al-Shazli Al-Ayari, the governor of Tunisia’s Central Bank, said that Tunisia would not resort to accessing these funds in 2013, but it might in 2014 if exports to the EU continue to decline.

This might not happen, he said, since there had been signs of a bounce-back since the end of last month, when exports grew by nearly 23 per cent compared to January 2012.

Despite these positive signs, the IMF has advised the government to begin structural reform of the economy, especially of subsidies which are a major load on the country’s budget and are still given to all regardless of means.

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