Tunisia - Politics
Tunisia was the epicenter of the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement that swept through North Africa and led to the ouster of President Ben Ali and later to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The military in Tunisia is professional and does not play a role in politics. While former president Ben Ali had a military background, he had risen through the security bureaucracy and interior ministry, and did not obtain the Presidence through a military coup. Unlike other North African countries, such as Algeria, where independence came as a result of armed struggle, Tunisian indepedence was essentially a political process. This left the military with little role in the narrative of national identity, and little influence in politics. Starting from independence, the military was given a defined defensive role, which excluded participation in politics.
Although there was some geographic sectionalism at independence in 1957, the deep tribal or ethnic cleavages with which other North African states had to deal were largely nonexistent. Moreover, Tunisia's independence struggle had been a political maneuver rather than a military encounter, and it had united the country without causing the mass destruction suffered, for example, by neighboring Algeria in its own agonizing war of independence.
Progress toward full democracy has been slow. Over the years, President Bourguiba stood unopposed for re-election several times and was named "President for Life" in 1974 by a constitutional amendment. At the time of independence, the Neo-Destourian Party (later the PSD)--enjoying broad support because of its role at the forefront of the independence movement -- became the sole legal party. Opposition parties were banned until 1981.
The former president Ben Ali fled the country 14 January 2011 after a month of protests and rioting sparked by widespread unemployment and high food prices. His departure ended more than two decades of authoritarian rule. When Ban Ali departed the country, interim authority fell to Fouad Mebazaa, the President of the National Assembly. Mebazaa was a long-time ruling RCD party stalwart (a member of the RCD Politburo, a former Minister, and a "survivor" from the Bourguiba era), whose principal task as interim President would be to organize elections and, from an RCD perspective, maintain the party's hold on power.
On 18 January 2011 Tunisian President Fouad Mebazaa and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi reportedly resigned from the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party. Education Minister Taieb Baccouch also resigned. Three opposition leaders - Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, Ahmed Brahim and Mustapha Ben Jaafar - were brought into the government. Tunisia's main opposition party, Democratic Forum for Labor and Unity, refused to rejoin the nation's floundering "unity" government. The thrrree members of the opposition UGTT trade union quit, including transport and labor ministers, saying they had "no confidence" in the government. On 20 January 2011 Tunisian state television reported that ministers from Tunisia's interim government had all resigned from the ruling party of the ousted former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia's transitional government appeared to be making good its promise to usher in a new political era. On 02 February 2011, it fired more than two dozen top police officers and, all 24 of the country's governors. Tunisia's judiciary is also investigating the vast assets belonging to ousted leader Ben Ali and his family, who are accused of financial abuses. Foreign Minister Ahmed Ouanies says the probe is an affair for Tunisia's justice, which is independent and must work at its own pace. The European Union announced it was freezing overseas assets belonging to leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his associates.
Prime Minister Ghannouchi said Tunisia will work toward transparent, fair elections under the supervision of international observers. A presidential poll was to be held within 60 days [but this did not happen]. In order to be eligible to run for the presidency, a candidate must be no older than 75, be a member of a party with at least one member in parliament, and obtain the signatures of 30 deputies and/or mayors.
- Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi (born 18 August 1941) is a career technocrat and trained economist, Ghannouchi had served as Prime Minister since 1999. Ghannouchi was rumored to have told many that he wished to leave the government but had not had the opportunity. The length of his service as PM also suggested that Ben Ali did not view him as a threat and that he was unlikely to be viewed as a qualified successor. However, average Tunisians generally viewed him with respect and he was well-liked in comparison to other officials.
- Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane (9 May 1945) appointed Minister of Defense in August 2005 after years of United Nations service, at one point had USG support for his candidacy to be the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and has been helpful as Minister. An oft-repeated notion that the US favors Morjane in the succession race affects the credibility of succession scenarios.
- Minister of State Abdelaziz Ben Dhia was often mentioned as a possible successor, given his strong position in the palace. Since he was born in 1936, Ben Dhia's age is the prime obstacle to the likelihood he would be Ben Ali's successor, as he also would be ineligible to run in the 2014 elections. However, rumored to be equally liked by the President and First Lady, Ben Dhia could act as a placeholder while a younger family member, such as one of Ben Ali's son-in-laws, gained political power. Ben Dhia's long history of government service, including under Bourguiba, may give him widespread public support, although his relatively secretive responsibilities in the palace cause some consternation among average Tunisians. These same unknown responsibilities have also supported Ben Dhia's reputation in Tunisia as an eminence grise - the brilliant behind-the-scenes decision maker in the palace.
- Former Minister of Social Affairs Ali Chaouch (born in 1948) has held two positions that have given him great exposure to the Tunisian public: as RCD Secretary General from 2000-04, and later as the Minister of Social Affairs. However, he also occupied the despised position of Minister of Interior, which while it may have given him the background to run a dictatorship, earned him little popularity with the Tunisian public. He left the government in the cabinet reshuffle of 14 January 2010 before being appointed in February as the Tunisian ambassador to Austria.
Mohammed Ghannouchi was followed as Prime Minister by former Foreign Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, who called the country's previous administration " a gang of saboteurs". Tunisia's new Prime Minister Beji Caid Esseb presided over the government and preparations for the countryís Constituent Assembly elections. The elections were first set for July 2011, but in June 2011 were postponed until October 23.
After the revolution, the historically dominant Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party was dissolved and outlawed. More than 100 political parties registered to run in the Constituent Assembly elections. Those parties that did not receive accreditation were rejected due to incomplete applications or because their programs were found to be inconsistent with laws prohibiting discrimination and parties based on religion. There were no reports of government interference with the right to organize, stand for election, publicizing views, or campaigning. Political party youth wings were not restricted.
Major Political parties [and leaders] include Afek Tounes [Emna MINF]; al-Nahda (The Renaissance) [Rachid GHANNOUCHI]; Congress Party for the Republic or CPR [Moncef MARZOUKI]; Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties or FDTL (Ettakatol) [Mustapha Ben JAAFAR]; Democratic Modernist Pole or PDM (a coalition); Democratic Socialist Movement or MDS; Et-Tajdid Movement [Ahmed IBRAHIM]; Green Party for Progress or PVP [Mongi KHAMASSI]; Liberal Social Party or PSL [Mondher THABET]; Movement of Socialist Democrats or MDS [Ismail BOULAHYA]; Popular Petition (Aridha Chaabia) [Hachemi HAMDI]; Popular Unity Party or PUP [Mohamed BOUCHIHA]; Progressive Democratic Party or PDP [Maya JERIBI]; The Initiative [Kamel MORJANE] (formerly the Constitutional Democratic Rally or RCD); Tunisian Workers' Communist Party or PCOT [Hamma HAMMAMI]; Unionist Democratic Union or UDU [Ahmed INOUBLI].
Elections for the newly established Constituent Assembly took place on 23 October 2011 and were judged by both international observer missions and the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) as free, fair, and transparent. The Constituent Assembly was mandated to appoint a new government, draft a new constitution and lead the way for legislative and presidential elections.
The initial election of 217 Constituent Assembly members held on 23 October 2011 resulted in al-Nahda with 89 seats, CPR 29, Popular Petition with 26, FDTL with 20, PDP with 16, PDM with 5, The Initiative with 5, Afek Tounes with 4, PCOT 3, other minor parties each with fewer than three seats 20 seats. President MARZOUKI was elected 12 December 2011 by the Constituent Assembly with 153 of 156 votes. Tunisia's interim government was appointed in December 2011 and will remain in power pending drafting of a new constitution and holding of general elections in 2013. Prime Minister JEBALI was asked to form a new government on 14 December 2011.
Two years after the revolution, members of the National Constituent Assembly were still battling over the constitution. By late 2012 Tunisia confronted several serious challenges as moderate and extreme forces are battled for control. The moderate faction of Tunisian society was increasingly alienated from Tunisian politics. The power-sharing agreement between the moderate Islamist Ennahda government and its coalition partners was under strain, and Tunisians were concerned about the possibility of a government standstill. The Ennahda party confronted two immediate challenges: 1) it was becoming increasingly difficult for Ennahda to balance the demands of both the Salafis and the secularists; and 2) there was a fracture between the leadership and the base.
Tunisiaís revolution was sparked when a fruit seller set himself on fire - an extreme protest against being fined for setting his stall in an illegal place. Two years later, the dictator is gone but at the market stalls in Tunis the hardship remained. Over 80 percent of Tunisian exports go to the European Union and with economic output shrinking in many of the EUís biggest economies at the end of 2012, the outlook remained tough. From the street to the boardroom, many Tunisians complain that politicians spend too much time debating the future instead of tackling Tunisiaís urgent problems.
Chokri Belaid, one of the leaders of the opposition Popular Front, was shot dead outside his Tunis home 06 February 2013. Belaid had strongly criticized the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party of failing to rein in extremist members and of threatening the opposition. His killing has sparked shock and outrage, and fears that religious extremists are trying to hijack Tunisia's transition to democracy. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he will form a new technocrat government without political affiliations, in response to the murder of a prominent opposition leader. Jebali announced the move 06 February 2013 on national television as thousands of protesters clashed with police in the capital in response to the murder of Chokri Belaid. The prime minister said his new ministers will have a mandate limited to managing the affairs of the country until elections are held, and said those polls will take place as soon as possible.
Tunisia descended into political crisis after secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his home in Tunis. Tunisians do not have a tradition of religious extremism. But Tunisian opposition groups continue to blame the assassination of party leader Chokri Belaid on extremist Muslims known as Salafists. They accuse the ruling Ennahda party of encouraging religious violence - a charge the government denies. But no matter who might be behind Belaidís death, there is growing fear among moderate and secular Tunisians that extremism is on the rise. Organizations known as the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution are accused of carrying out an agenda of religious violence - attacking art galleries and harassing women who refuse to wear Islamic dress.
Thousands of Tunisians rallied in support of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party as Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali threatened to resign if his proposal to appoint a nonpolitical cabinet of technocrats is rejected. The opposition has welcomed Jebali's proposal to appoint a cabinet of technocrats, but top members of the Ennahda party have rejected it. The veteran leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, Rachid Ghannouchi, said 17 February 2013 the main parties agree on a limited Cabinet that would work toward holding new elections as quickly as possible. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali submitted his resignation 18 February 2013 after his attempt to form a government of non-partisan technocrats failed. His own Ennadha party, which dominates the government, did not support his attempt.
Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, a member of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, was chosen as prime minister-designate by his peers 21 February 2013. He was tasked with forming a government within two weeks. Tunisia's new prime minister-designate promised to form a cabinet representing all Tunisians as political leaders try to smooth over a growing political crisis. Larayedh spent 15 years in prison under the previous regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and is largely seen as a moderate member of the party.
Tunisia's prime minister designate unveiled a new Islamist-led coalition government 08 March 2013, following last-minute talks aimed at averting a major political crisis. The deal, reached Friday just hours before a midnight deadline, includes members from the Islamist Ennahda party, the center-left Ettakatol, and the secular Congress for the Republic. The prime minister designate, Ali Larayedh, said the new team will serve only until an election is held by the end of 2013.
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