Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1145, 25 April - 1 May 2013
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1145, 25 April - 1 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

No confidence in Marzouki?

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki is facing a vote of no confidence in the country’s Constituent Assembly, writes Lassaad Ben Ahmad

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After the Tunisian Minister for Women Seham Badi dodged a no-confidence vote last week, it is now the turn of interim President Moncef Marzouki to be questioned by MPs after a petition signed by 77 of them was submitted to the chairman of the country’s Constituent Assembly, asking it to hold a hearing about Marzouki’s performance since he was appointed in January 2012.

The petition was filed after statements made by Marzouki threatening those “insulting Qatar” after the latter country had helped bring back a first installment of money stolen from the country in mid-April and worth $28.8 million, Marzouki said.

The statements led to a backlash among Tunisians, especially on social media sites. Many people criticised Marzouki and his relations with the Gulf state, notably because Qatar is thought to promote US policies in the region. The incumbent Al-Nahda Movement, part of the country’s troika government, has also made a deal with the US, mediated by Doha, that would lead to normalising relations with Israel, the critics said.

These claims are not based on documents or facts, but are more a matter of guesswork, though the president’s critics deny the claims. Qatar itself has issued statements to the effect that it supports the Tunisian revolution, and the US has said that it was the first country to support the aspirations of the Tunisian people in moving towards democracy.

Since coming to power, Marzouki has made many controversial statements, and he has been widely seen as a weak president because of his support for Al-Nahda and his trimming to keep his position as president.

Many Al-Nahda supporters also disagree with the positions Marzouki took with regard to former Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Al-Jibali’s government. Opinion polls have shown his popularity plummeting and his Congress for the Republic Party has also split into three.

According to the law regulating the country’s transitional phase, the Constituent Assembly can withdraw confidence from the president, prime minister and members of the cabinet by holding a hearing followed by a confidence vote passed by a 50+1 per cent majority (or 109 votes).

While the assembly has 15 days to file a petition against cabinet members and hold a public hearing, there is no deadline for sanctioning the president, and the law does not oblige the president to attend a no-confidence hearing.

Some observers believe a no-confidence vote will not lead to a vote because Marzouki is supported by Al-Nahda, but others feel that the possibility of MPs questioning the president is a watershed in itself.

Not only would this set a precedent for Tunisia and the present regime, putting the president in jeopardy and forcing him to explain his actions and statements, but it would also be a victory for democracy by forcing greater accountability.

Some analysts believe that Marzouki’s job may be on the line, since the motion coincides with the launch of a national dialogue on the country’s political system and the setting of dates for the upcoming elections.

While various political parties have agreed to hold elections before December 2013, there has been little consensus about the political system. Al-Nahda wants a parliamentary system, but other parties want an amended presidential system in which the president and MPs are elected by direct balloting.

Whatever the decision about the political system, the national dialogue also includes debate about the president’s powers. Many Tunisians feel that the incumbent president is weak when compared to former presidents Habib Bourguiba of even the ousted dictator Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali.

The death of Bourguiba on 6 April 2000 was an opportunity for his supporters, as well as for a handful of figures from the former ruling regime and dismantled former ruling party, to praise his achievements, while others have countered that Tunisia is today suffering from the wrong choices Bourguiba made, these being continued by Bin Ali.

While these things form the background to Marzouki’s hearing before the Constituent Assembly, the latter will also be an opportunity for Tunisians to think about what type of president they want. Do they want a dictator, a “weakling”, or something in between?

No one could have expected that a president or minister of the country would have been called to account before the Assembly before the overthrow of former president Bin Ali on 14 January, 2011.

Since then, many senior officials have been probed, the first occasion being in October 2012 when Mustafa Al-Nabli was fired from his position as governor of the Central Bank after a quarrel with the former prime minister about the bank’s independence.

Then came the turn of the minister for women, who almost lost her job two weeks ago after a three-year-old girl was raped at a nursery in the capital Tunis.

Instead of taking firm steps such as shutting down the nursery, the minister defended the institution and declared that the child had not been raped at the nursery but had been attacked at home. According to the testimony of the child, the perpetrator had been a guard at the nursery who has a criminal record.

Opposition MPs condemned the performance of the minister, and they stressed the gains Tunisian women have made, contrasting these with the minister’s position on urfi (common law) marriage. There was a media furor about the toddler rape, and public opinion was appalled at the number of unlicensed nurseries and lack of oversight in the country, which had been thought to lead to child abuse in them.

The rape of the girl was also an opportunity to unveil other rape cases across the country committed by men with criminal records who were later released as a result of presidential pardons.

This put the blame on the interim president, who has taken every national or religious holiday as an opportunity to issue pardons. Will he survive the forthcoming hearing as the minister for women did? The Tunisian public will have to wait and see.

 

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