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Tunisia - Opposition Parties

On 20 January 2011 Tunisia's new transitional Cabinet decided to grant recognition to banned political parties and to adopt a general amnesty for political prisoners. Political parties of the opposition had shown a tendency to seek a political room in the regime's mansion rather than try and build up a strong organization among the masses. Given the personality-cult status of the opposition parties (several of which are internally fragmented and weak) and their lack of organized platforms or significant membership, it is unlikely any opposition candidate would garner enough strength to seriously challenge an RCD member. It is most likely that the next president would come from within the RCD given its history as Tunisia's founding party, its grass roots structure, and its interest in stability and continuity.

Political parties are the Democratic Constitutional Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique -- ruling party) or RCD; At-Tajdid Movement (Ahmed Brahim); Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties or FDTL (Mustapha Ben Jaafar); Liberal Social Party or PSL (Mondher Thabet); Movement of Democratic Socialists or MDS (Ismail Boulahia); Popular Unity Party or PUP (Mohamed Bouchiha); Unionist Democratic Union or UDU (Ahmed Inoubli); Progressive Democratic Party or PDP (Maya Jribi); Green Party for Progress or PVP (Mongi Khamassi).

The dominant role of the state and the rulng party in Tunisia's political, economic, and social life under Bourguiba hindered the development of democratic institutions and practices. Thus opposition political parties were not legalized until the early 1980s; the press was carefully controlled;the state apparatus remained highly centralized; the economy was dominated by the state; and the most prominent private secular crganizations were closely tied to the ruling party. Lacking a democratic cultural heritage, and in the absence of severe social or economic crises, Tunisia failed to produce an opposition movement that was strong enough to challenge and dismantle Bourguiba's authoritarian regime.

In the 1970s increasing pressure for the relaxation of political life and the legitimation of organized opposition movements continued to be rebuffed by Bourguiba. The violence kindled by a general strike in January 1978 dramatized the pent-up grievances that had been suppressed under a system inhospitable to dissenting opinions. The power of the unions, which were blamed for the riots, was curbed by arrests and imprisonment. The minor concession of allowing a choice between two candidates for each seat - both carrying the endorsement of the PSD - did little to mollify the public's resentment over the monopoly of political expression by the PSD.

President Bourguiba decreed in 1981 that opposition parties should be recognized and allowed to compete against the Destourian socialists. Although given legal status and allowed their own publications, the other parties were obstructed in their efforts to contest both national and local elections. Only the government party and affiliated groups were represented in the submissive parliament. The government's reluctance to accept nonconformity and criticism contributed to public cynicism over Destourianism and the existing institutions of government.

Since the change of government in November 1987 that brought President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali to power, Tunisia took important steps toward the development of a pluralistic political regime. Many obstacles remained, however, and the rapid progress toward democratic pluralism that occurred in the first year of the Ben Ali regime was not matched in the subsequent period.

The "Parti Démocratique Progressiste" (Progressive Democratic Party - PDP). Legally recognized on September 12, 1988, and publishes the newspaper: Al-Mawqif. The "Parti Social Démocratique Liberal" (Liberal Democratic Social Party - PSDL) was legally recognized on September 19, 1988, and publishes the newspaper Al-Ofoq. The "Union Democratique Unioniste" (Unionist Democratic Union - UDU) was legally recognized on November 30, 1988, and publishes the newspaper Al Watan. The "Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés" (FDTL) [Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, also rendered as Union of Freedom and Labor party, Democratic Forum for Work and Liberties, or {less plausibly} Democratic Forum for Freedom and Liberties] was legally recognized on October 25, 2002. The "Green Party for Progress" was legally recognized on March 03, 2006.

Elections were last held October 25, 2009. The government rejected 15 of the 26 legislative candidate slates the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) proposed and 12 of the 26 proposed by the Ettajdid Movement. In some cases, the government rejected candidate slates without explanation. By contrast, five "opposition" parties viewed as friendly to the government had no more than five of their 26 candidate slates rejected. Election results: percentage of vote by party -- RCD 75%; seats by party -- RCD 161, MDS 16, PUP 12, UDU 9, At-Tajdid 2, PSL 8, PVP 6.

Movement of Socialist Democrats / Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes

The "Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes" (Movement of Socialist Democrats - MDS) was legally recognized on November 19, 1983. Its newspapers are "Al-Mostaqbal" and "L'Avenir". Although credited with less than 4 percent of the vote in the 1981 election, the Movement of Socialist Democrats (Mouvement des Dmocrates Socialistes-MDS) is considered to be the primary contender among the authorized opposition groups. Its secretary general, Ahmed Mestiri, previously a leading liberal within the ranks of the PSD, was expelled from the government party in 1975, having been accused of disruptive factionalism. In 1977 more than 160 liberals, including Mestiri and other former cabinet ministers, appealed to Bourguiba to end the deterioration of civil liberties and called a national conference-later banned by the authorities- for the same purpose. In June 1978 Mestiri announced his intention to form a separate political party. Many of his liberal associates were unwilling to carry their differences with the Destourian Party this far and in 1980 accepted an invitation to be reintegrated into the PSD. These persons included Essebsi and Sadok Ben Jomaa, both of whom were rewarded with new cabinet portfolios.

The first congress of the MDS was held in December 1983, shortly after its formal recognition. Its elected National Council of 81 members included the heads of the regional federations and the 10 members of the Political Bureau, consisting of Mestiri and nine deputy secretaries general. The MDS is a reformist group that urges a true multiparty system, relaxation of the PSD grip on the administration of the country, a more open political dialogue, an end to the harassment of opposition parties and their members, and greater press freedom. Its outlook on economic issues is little different from that of the PSD. It advocates an economy blending public and private sector activity and a broader range of legislation aimed at ameliorating social conditions.

Popular Unity Party / Parti de l'Unite Populaire

The Popular Unity Party (PUP) was legally recognized on November 19, 1983. PUP publishes the newspaper Al Wihda. Ahmed Ben Salah, the former secretary of state for planning and finance and architect of the country's centralized planning policies during the 1960s, joined other dissidents to form the Movement of Popular Unity in Paris in 1973. The group's manifesto, Toward a New Tunisia, published in 1975, advocated a totally planned economy under strict state control, social reform, and a nonaligned foreign policy. It did not hesitate to criticize Bourguiba personally nor to question the legitimacy of the PSD government. A rift developed between the external and the internal wings of the movement, Ben Salah and a majority of the political committee opposing the establishment of local units within Tunisia and efforts to become registered as a legal party. The internal faction also adopted a less intransigent attitude toward Bourguiba. The split became formalized when four internal members applied for authorization to found a party and a newspaper in January 1981. The more moderate internal group, although designating itself the Movement of Popular Unity, was often referred to as MUP-Il to distinguish it from the Ben Salah faction. In 1985 it was renamed the Popular Unity Party (Parti d'Unit Populaire-PUP). Its secretary general, Mohamed Ben Hadj Amor, described the party as "socialist nationalist" in its outlook and appealed for a unification of all leftist ranks in a single national front. The MUP attracted little public support in the 1981 election, gaining less than 1 percent of the announced vote.

Ettajdid Tunisian Communist Party

The Tunisian Communist Party (Parti Communiste Tunisien (PCT) was founded in 1920 as an arm of the French Communist Party but became independent in 1934. It adopted orthodox pro-Soviet positions, although in its program for the 1981 election it softened its approach. Its call for a united opposition front was, however, rejected by the MDS. It assailed the government's economic policies as aggravating regional and social disparities and favoring the bourgeois classes but refrained from demanding the nationalization of the private sector. The PCT's foreign policy platform included peaceful coexistence and nonalignment, insisting on a firm stance against "imperialism-especially American imperialism." After Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the PCT called upon the government to freeze its relations with Washington and to dissolve the United States-Tunisian Joint Military Commission. At the eighth congress of the PCT in 1981, a three-member Secretariat was elected, headed by Secretary General Muhammad Harmel, plus a Political Bureau of six members and a Central Committee of 12 members. The party was believed to have no more than 100 committed adherents. Its six candidates in the 1981 election attracted a vote of 15,000.

In April 1993 PCT was transformed into Mouvement de la Rénovation - Ettajdid, a non-communist party. The "Mouvement At-Tajdid" (At-Tajdid Movement) was created on April 23, 1993, and publishes the newspaper At-Tariq Al-Jadid. Tunisian opposition Ettajdid Movement leader Ahmed Brahim filed paperwork on Thursday (September 17th) to run in the upcoming presidential election. Calling himself the candidate of a "democratic and progressive opposition", Brahim, 63, noted that the Ettajdid party has long advocated for the establishment of a just democratic system and a comprehensive national dialogue.

The Tunisian Workers' Communist Party (French: Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens, Arabic: Hizb al-'Ummal al-Shuyu'i) (PCOT) is an illegal Marxist-Leninist political party in Tunisia. It was founded on January 3, 1986 and has a youth wing the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia (UJCT). PCOT is a part of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (Unity & Struggle).



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