Tunisia elections: al-Nahda loses control of parliament, Nidaa Tounes comes out on top

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A Tunisian policeman stands guard as staff of the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) deliver ballot boxes ahead of the counting process in the Tunis suburb of Ariana on October 27, 2014, one day after Tunisia's first parliamentary election since the 2011 revolution. (Photo: AFP-Fethi Belaid)

By: Noureddine Baltayeb

Published Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How did al-Nahda Movement lose? Undoubtedly, this is the most important question in Tunisia and the Arab world because of what al-Nahda represents in terms of its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and its prominence in the country. Before going too far in our conclusions, however, it appears that its failure at governance was its primary pitfall.

Tunis – Less than two years and a half after it was established, Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) succeeded in receiving the largest number of votes in the most recent parliamentary elections winning 83 seats (according to preliminary results) out of 217 in the first parliament since former President Zein al-Abidine ben Ali fled Tunisia. It came ahead of all other political parties, including al-Nahda, established over 40 years ago, which won 68 seats in Sunday’s election.

Nidaa Tounes’ ability to garner the most seats in the parliament for a five-year term, during which the party will form the government, poses a number of questions among Tunisians. Nidaa Tounes’ ascendancy coincided with the decline of other political parties that became prominent after the fall of the previous regime, parties that came ahead in the last election, such as the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (FDTL) headed by Speaker of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha ben Jafar. It came in third place in terms of votes and seats in the 2011 election but won only two seats this time around.

Another example is the interim President Mohammed Moncef Marzouki whose party, Congress for the Republic (CPR), won only four seats after it had come in second place in both votes and seats in the previous election.

The Republican Party led by Najib Chebbi, got only one seat, even though it had 16 seats in the previous election. This result comes despite the fact that this party had led the Tunisian opposition for years since the time of Habib Bourguiba and ben Ali. It was also behind the famous hunger strike in October 2005 and was the nucleus of the movement opposed to the previous regime.

All this leads to the following question, what happened to make Nidaa Tounes win the largest number of votes and seats? To say that this victory happened because supporters of the previous regime took the initiative and returned in a new guise does not explain this victory, neither does the charisma of Nidaa Tounes’ leader Beji Caid al-Sebsi alone.

It is clear that a number of factors came together to make this victory possible. The first such factor is the failure of the Troika (al-Nahda, CPR and FDTL), which ruled after the previous election, to achieve any gains for Tunisians.

Yesterday, al-Nahda’s official spokesperson, Ziad Laadhari, admitted that his party paid the price of taking power during a transitional period and made “mistakes whose consequences could have been worse than they turned out to be.”

No one can deny that under the troika “terrorism, smuggling and crime” were on the rise. This frustrated Tunisians so much that many of them longed for the old regime. In this atmosphere of darkness, terrorism and hopelessness, Sebsi appears to have succeeded in establishing a political movement with simple basic slogans such as “hope,” “restoring Tunisia,” reclaiming the national flag and the national anthem and achieving the demands of the protesters who brought down the former regime.

In the end, there developed a need to rally around the new party and its Bourguiba-esque leader to restore Tunisia – as Nidaa Tounes’ leaders say – and to confront efforts to “afghanize the country” through religious education in the Pakistani vein and impose sexual segregation in some public places, leniency with terrorists and last but not least, suspicious funding of religious and social associations.

All this was going on in addition to rampant nepotism and seizing control of public administration and utilities. This convinced many Tunisians that the new rulers are repeating the methods of the former regime while changing the nature of Tunisian society and spreading a wahhabi culture that is alien to Tunisians.

Confronted with this setback and with the rise in terrorism and assassinations, voters realized that what is in store for them is worse than what they experienced under post-independence governments. This provided Sebsi with the perfect climate for the rise of Nidaa Tounes as official party membership rose to more than 110,000. No other political party was able to come close to this figure except ben Ali’s now dissolved party in which membership was almost mandatory for most state employees.

It is therefore the frustration that Tunisians experienced since the troika came to power (December 2011 - January 2014) that made Nidaa Tounes the political powerhouse that it is today, while other parties have nearly disappeared and al-Nahda witnessed a decline.

With the security threats that Tunisians face and as the country’s young men die every day in Iraq and Syria, Tunisians – known for their moderation and centrism – are looking for a party that reminds them of Tunisia even if it includes leaders from the old regime. After all, people do not deny the gains of the post-independence governments despite their dictatorship and corruption, which the troika did not do away with but rather offered new forms of the same old governing mechanisms.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Tunisians punished the troika and the parties that allied themselves with the Islamists, as well as small parties because they are looking for a lifeboat even if it smells of the old regime.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

This is a new setback for Qatar that has been supporting the Moslem Brotherhood in Tunisia.
Tunisia is a poor country and Al Nahda had welcomed the financial support of Qatar. Because of Qatar's presence, Saudi Arabia has been is excluded.
In the new 'secular' government they are many Ben Ali's supporters. As Saudi Arabia has been hosting Ben Ali, it will reap some benefice and try to regain influence.
If is rejected, Saudi Arabia will try to stir the extremist factions present in the country.
On the other hand, Qatar may not accept its defeat to Saudi Arabia. It has lost Egypt, about to loose Syria and it does not want to loose Tunisia. It may also try to destabilize the country by resorting to violence.
Tunisia may become the victim of a renewed competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The proximity of Libya may be used by both sides to destabilize the country.

Et le Front populaire ??

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