Political leaders formerly associated with Tunisia‘s ruling party have announced the formation of a new movement that will compete in this year’s general elections.
The formation of the new party, called Tahya Tounes – Arabic for “Long live Tunisia” – was announced in the coastal town of Monastir on Sunday.
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“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 new party, told the Reuters news agency.
“We seek to lead the nation and compete with the Islamists,” Zohra added.
Many of the party’s adherents are former members of President Beji Caid Essebsi‘s ruling Nidaa Tounes, a loose movement hastily brought together following the 2011 overthrow of longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and united predominantly in their opposition to the Muslim Democrat Ennahda party.
Nidaa Tounes’ early successes and its ability to secure a plurality of seats in Tunisia’s 217-member parliament in 2014 was quickly overshadowed by infighting within its ranks.
Disagreements over whether President Essebsi’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, is fit to run the party led to mass defections that have left the parliamentary bloc with a mere 44 seats, from an initial 86.
MP Walid Jalled claims Tahia Tounes will be organized "horizontally" – without a president or secretary general and only a general coordinator…https://t.co/GwoBM8ocy3
— Sharan Grewal (@sh_grewal) January 27, 2019
The feud, which cost Prime Minister Youssef Chahed the membership of Nidaa Tounes, spilt over to Essebsi’s partnership with Ennahda, a junior partner in the national coalition government.
In September, 92-year-old Essebsi announced the end of his party’s alliance with Ennahda in a televised address over the latter’s support to Prime Minister Chahed.
With both presidential and legislative elections expected in November, some analysts believe Essebsi’s decision to end his alliance with Ennahda was aimed at setting the beleaguered party apart from its political rival.
Analysts say the staunchly secular Nidaa is trying to capitalise on the current anti-Chahed sentiment in the wake of an unpopular reform programme that includes cutting down the public wage bill and letting go of lossmaking state companies.
Some, however, say the president has been angered by Chahed’s crackdown on corruption, which has touched officials from the Ben Ali era and prominent businessmen who support Nidaa Tounes.
While Chahed did not attend the party’s inauguration on Sunday, thousands of his supporters joined former Nidaa Tounes members, including Slim Azzabi – President Essebsi’s former chief of staff – in marking the occasion.
“You’ve come from different [political thought] currents and parties but what unites us is bigger,” Azzabi said.
“All of us belong to the same democratic and modest family,” Azabbi said, adding that the new party will “not be one of leaders and names,” a veiled reference to the Essebsi family which has been accused of nepotism and attempting to impose a hereditary transfer of power.