Tunisian party leaders remain locked in talks over next president

November 13, 2011

Less than 10 days before Tunisia’s constituent assembly is scheduled to convene, the name of the country’s next president remains highly elusive.

Negotiations started three weeks ago between three of the top parties in the national elections over who will head the state for at least the next year have failed to reach a consensus on a name.

Al Nahda, the clear winner of the elections after it carried 90 of the 217 assembly seats, said that it was not interested in the post that would be largely ceremonial in the parliamentary regime that it wants to push forward.

The decision by the moderate Islamist party left its negotiation partners, the Congress for the Republic, the runner up with 29 seats, and Attakattol, fourth with 17 seats to debate whose secretary general would have the honour of being the next president.

However, as the two parties seemed until Sunday unable to agree on a name, there is now talk that an independent figure, most probably a former minister, could be chosen as the next head of state to end the stalemate, especially that Al Nahda has clearly indicated that it wanted to move forward and focus on other issues.

The name of Beji Caid Essebsi, the incumbent prime minister and a former foreign minister under Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president, has been put forth as a judicious choice. However, the Congress for the Republic has opposed it on the grounds that it wanted to sever all ties with past government figures regardless of their integrity and to have a totally new team run the country.

Attakattol did not openly oppose the choice of the 85-year-old leader, but did not endorse it, either.

Al Nahda is reportedly divided over the choice with one clan arguing against Caid Essebsi as the wrong indication to a nation keen on putting the past behind and moving forward and the other clan saying that the man’s international stature gave highly crucial signs of stability and could guarantee support and acceptance in global circles.

According to the local daily Assabah, Al Nahda might eventually endorse Caid Essebsi if its negotiating partners failed to break their deadlock, especially that the Islamist party can avail of a wide range of options if it decides to disregard talks with the Congress for the Republic and Attakattol and form a new partnership with other political parties.

While the Progressive Democratic Party, a leftist party, said that it was not interested in joining the government, the Popular Petition that shocked Tunisia’s politics and analysts by winning 26 seats has expressed readiness to enter negotiations.

However, the movement, whose leader Mohammad Hachemi Hamidi has been living in London and has not been home for years, has been largely shunned amid reports that it had strong links to the RCD, the party of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former president who was ousted in a popular uprising in January.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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