Sixteen Tunisian lawmakers from Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party resigned on Friday following a dispute involving his son Hafedh Caid Essebsi who attempted to allow Essebsi’s rival Ennahda party to become the main parliamentary power.
"The son of the president and his group took control of party and carried out a coup," Walid Jalled, one of the lawmakers said.
"We will not accept being like a flock of sheep," he added.
Another lawmaker Abada El Kefi said that three more Nidaa Tounes parliament members would resign as they returned from travel overseas.
The resignations deepened a split between two sides in Nidaa Tounes just days after its Secretary General Mohsen Marzouk announced that he would break away and form a new political movement over accusations Essebsi’s son was trying to control the party.
The split in Nidaa Tounes, formed after Tunisia's 2011 revolt against Zine Abidine Ben Ali, came at a delicate time as the North African state is trying to overcome terror attacks by DAESH and encourage economic growth.
After this week's resignations, Nidaa Tounes will have 70 lawmakers in the 217-member congress while the rival party Ennahda has 69 seats. If more Nidaa Tounes legislators left, Ennahda could become the main party in parliament.
The resignations may complicate attempts to push through sensitive reforms that Tunisia's international lenders are demanding to curb public spending and kickstart an economy hit by three major terror attacks this year.
In 2013, Nidaa Tounes showed up as a political force to organise protests against a government formed by the Ennahda party. It defeated Ennahda in elections in 2014 and continued to form a coalition with its rival.
The split has been getting bigger inside Nidaa Tounes, which means Call of Tunisia, since last year after a dispute arose between a wing of the party led by Essebsi’s son and another by Marzouk, one of its founders.
Essebsi’s supporters dismissed the claim that the wanted to put his son in a position of power through a dynastic handover of the party. Critics said that Essebsi's camp had ridden roughshod over party regulations.
Tunisia has been praised as a model for democratic transition since the 2011 revolt overthrew longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The country has mostly avoided the violent turmoil of other "Arab Spring" countries which also toppled long-standing rulers. Tunisia was defined as the cradle of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
However, after three attacks by DAESH including an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March, and a gun attack on foreign tourists at a beach hotel in Sousse resort in June, prompted the government to find the best strategy to fight against terrorists and revive the country’s economy which was damaged due to attacks. Both attacks killed a total of 60 people.