Tunisia’s confident secularists weigh options

Head of Nidaa Tounes rules out governing alone as exit polls show it emerging as largest party in 217-seat parliament.

Essebsi, Nidaa Tounes's 87-year-old leader, is a former minister and parliamentary speaker [Reuters]

Tunisia’s secular Nidaa Tounes has pledged to form a government “with those closest” to it as no single political party is expected to win an outright majority in the new parliament.

Based on exit polls and statistical sampling of voting station results by observer groups, Nidaa Tounes looks set to become the largest party in parliament, defeating the Islamist Ennahda that led the government during the transitional period following the 2011 revolution.

“We took the decision in advance that Nidaa Tounes would not govern alone, even if we won an absolute majority,” Beji Caid Essebsi, the party’s 87-year-old leader, told Al-Hiwar Al-Tounsi television.

“We will govern with those closest to us, with the democratic family, so to speak.”

During the election campaign, Essebsi did not rule out power-sharing between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda if necessary.

Tunisia, regarded as the birthplace of the Arab Spring, held landmark elections on Sunday for a 217-seat parliament.

A Nidaa Tounes official, speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, stopped short of confirming whether Ennahda would be invited to take part in coalition talks.

“We are against exclusion, but the focus at the moment should be on coexistence and not coalition,” Anis Maazoun, head of the electoral campaign of Nidaa Tounes in Tunis’ Ariana district, said.

“We in Nidaa Tounes believe that the Ennahda movement has become a reality in the Tunisian political landscape. Therefore, we are meant to coexist.

“Democracy necessitates that every political party should play its role in serving the country from the position it finds itself in.”

Open-door policy

Hinting that Ennahda could still play a big role in the opposition, Maazoun said: “We should all agree on means to best serve the country first. This is our common ground. We will form a coalition government with the parties with whom we share similar principles.”

Nevertheless, Nidaa Tounes will follow an open-door policy and approach parties from across the political spectrum, Maazoun said, “either as allies and partners within a coalition, or as our colleagues in the opposition whom we should engage in discussing the best means to serve the welfare of our country and people”.

Election organisers have until Thursday to announce the official results.


Maazoun hinted that Ennahda could play a big role in opposition [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]

Projections suggest that Nidaa Tounes will win about 80 of the 217 seats in parliament, against approximately 70 for Ennahda.

Lotfi Zitoun, a senior Ennahda official, has conceded defeat and reiterated the party’s call for the formation of a unity government including Ennahda in the interest of the country.

Ahmed Gaaloul, a member of Ennahda’s shura (consultative) council, said history showed that the first governments to lead countries after revolutions often had a difficult time.

“Most of the post-revolution governments faced difficulties, simply because people’s expectations are higher after revolution,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Governing is not an easy task in those conditions because you don’t want to prove powerful when people revolted against that.

“Winning the last elections put us through a very difficult examination. Given that most of our leadership spent years in jails or exile, it was hard to govern.”

By voting for Nidaa Tounes, Tunisians appeared to prefer the country’s long-established elites over Ennahda, with some hoping for a return of what was a more orderly time before the revolution.

Essebsi, for instance, served as minister of the interior, defence and foreign affairs under the country’s founding president, Habib Bourguiba.

He was then parliamentary speaker under deposed leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Source: Al Jazeera