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Tunisia has a third front for 2019 polls

  • 4 Feb 2019

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's supporters set up a new political party to compete for the next presidential and parliamentary elections in late 2019. Could it be a game changer?

Tunisia's Prime Minister Youssef Chahed attends a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, October 26, 2018. ( Reuters )

As national elections in Tunisia are slated for the end of 2019, the political battle among leading politicians has intensified.

Hafedh Caid Essebsi, son of the president and the leader of Nidaa Tounes, suspended the current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed from his party, criticising him of failing to improve the country's economic situation. Chahed's supporters have now formed a new political party named Long Live Tunisia. 

The Ennahda party stood by Chahed in 2015 when the calls for his resignation became shrill with Essebsi demanding he step down. The exit of the prime minister, Ennahda said, would affect stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.

During election campaigning, the political wrangling is likely to play out between President Beji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounes, Prime Minister Chahed of Long Live Tunisia and the candidates of Ennahda. 

Both Essebsi and Chahed espouse secular views, while Ennahda is a conservative party.

“Despite the lack of political support for the government, we will move ahead with economic reforms next year, including the reform of subsidies and social funds,” Chahed said on September 14 last year.

After Chahed's departure from Nidaa Tounes, the party was hit by more resignations. The outgoing politicians built what they called the National Coalition and announced their support for  Chahed.

Nidaa Tounes emerged as the single largest party in the last elections 2014. But after Chahed's departure, their strength in the parliament decreased from 86 to 41.

Although the Long Live Tunisia party was carved out of the National Coalition, announcing its launch from the coastal city of Monastir last Sunday, Chaded doesn’t belong to any party, nor does he head the new political outfit established by his former colleagues.

“Our goal will be to have a strong party that will lead economic reforms and return hope for frustrated Tunisians,” Zohra Idriss, a lawmaker and member of the Long Live Tunisia party, said.

“We seek to lead the nation and compete with the Islamists ... Chahed will be the leader.”

On the other hand, Tunisian President Caid Essebsi recently said that Chahed-led government derives its power from ideologically distinct Ennahda, and if the latter withdrew its support, Chahed would fall.

Essebsi also said Ennahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi is using Chahed as a proxy for presidential race. 

“Rashid Ghannouchi will support him secretly to run for president. This is no secret to anyone in Tunisia,” Essebsi said.

Ennahda rejected Essebsi's claims, saying they are yet to decide upon a presidential nomination. 

Pre-poll surveys declare Ennahda a favourite in the 2019 elections. 

The party has 68 of 217 seats in the parliament.

Tunisia is considered the only successful democracy that remained after the Arab Spring, when  protests toppled autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, without triggering any violent upheaval. Several political parties agreed upon a progressive constitution in 2014, and established a coalition in parliament.

But nine cabinets since then have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment. Impatience is rising among lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, which has kept the country afloat.

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