UPDATE: Tunisia’s ruling party MPs suspend their membership and threaten to resign

Mon 9 Nov 2015

UPDATE: Tunisia’s ruling party MPs suspend their membership and threaten to resign

Update 9 November

On 9 November 32 MPs resigned from Nidaa Tounes , after earlier threats that they might do so. One of the MPs, Hassouna Nasfi, said that “we decided to resign from the party's bloc today after the refusal to hold an executive committee meeting, which is the only legitimate structure of the party". Furthermore she said the MPs resigned “to protest the non-democratic way in which the party has been managed". As a result of the mass-resignations Nidaa Tounes, formerly the biggest party in parliament, remains with 54 seats in parliament while its coalition partner, the Islamist Ennahda party, has 67 seats and is the majority party. It is expected that this makes ruling the country more difficult for president Beji Caid Essebsi, as the power has shifted in the coalition government and important (financial) reforms might not have enough support now.


Tunisia’s ruling party MPs suspend their membership and threaten to resign

On 5 November thirty Members of Parliament  from Tunisia’s ruling secularist Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) party have suspended their membership and are threatening to resign if there “will be no meeting of the executive committee in one week”. Nidaa Tounes has been faced with internal disputes that have caused a split between a faction surrounding its Secretary General and a former leftist activist, Mohsen Marzouk, and a faction loyal to President Essebsi's son Hafedh Caid Essebsi. Negotiations and meetings have led to no consensus, but instead deepened the crisis in the party. If the thirty MPs resign, Nidaa Tounes , which holds 85 seats in parliament, might lose its majority to the rival Islamist Ennahda movement.

Internal disputes
Stating their demands, the thirty MPs pledged to “remain loyal to the party’s executive office” and said that they will await a meeting of the Executive Committee, held  before  November 10th . They said that should the Executive Committee be unable to “reconcile itself” and “make the decisions necessary for the party”, they will “formalize their departure and a new party will be formed”. Mohsen Marzouk said that the MPs felt that the faction led by Hafedh Essebsi  “refuses to respect the Executive Committee's legitimacy”. Essebi’s faction accused Marzouk of “harbouring Presidential ambitions”, while Marzouk’s faction fear that Essebi will try to seize control over the party through a restructuring of the party.

On November 2nd President Beji Caid Essebi invited all Nidaa Tounes MPs to his palace to discuss a violent confrontation between the two factions. But some MPs felt the move was inappropriate, as MP Sabrine Goubantini said “I hope that the President of the Republic does not intervene in the affairs of the party”.  She said she would not attend the meeting, as “such a meeting is useless”.  The meeting did not reconcile the factions, nor did it provide clarity on the ‘party line’. Meetings and negotiations last month also failed to unite the party, instead member of the Executive Committee Lazhar Akermi said it had “deepened wounds”. On November 1st a party meeting ended in a fight in the coastal town Hammamet, when Executive Committee member Kacim Makhlouf said he was assaulted by party member Hedi Benzarti. At the same meeting Executive Director Boujemaa Remili was prevented entry, causing further tensions. Marzouk’s faction accused Essebi of orchestrating the violence to disrupt a meeting of the Executive Committee.

Loss of trust
Various Nidaa Tounes members have expressed their loss of trust in the party, as Lazhar Akermi said that the party is on “the brink of collapse”. Member of the Executive Board Mamoghli Chokri said  “Nidaa Tounes is dead and buried” and “the party no longer exists as we know it”. He predicted that there will be a split and “the parliamentary group will be divided into two and the government will likely fall”, causing the Ennahda movement to “become the first party in the country”.  Political analyst Youssef Cherif said that “the members of Nidaa Tounes have come to believe in the death of their own party”. He believes a split is “inevitable”.

Nidaa Tounes was established in 2012 under the leadership of now-president Beji Caid Essbsi, asking all Tunisians to unite in favor of transition. It protested against the Ennahda government, forcing them to step down in 2013. During the 2014 parliamentary elections it became the biggest party, followed by the Ennahda movement. The two parties along with the populist Free Patriotic Union and the liberal Afek Tounes Party formed a unity coalition. Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said that “the thirty deputies who have chosen to freeze their membership are an important indicator” of the stability within the party. He further predicted that if Nidaa Tounes splits “Prime Minister Habib Essid will be forced to negotiate with Ennahda”, thus increasing its power “in both the parliament and the government”.