Tunisia’s road map towards change, a political minefield

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Tunisia’s ruling, Islamist-leaning, Ennahda party accepted to join the National Dialogue Conference on Saturday Oct. 5, 2013, on the grounds of a road map presented by four national organizations, including the country’s labor union. The road map is geared towards finding a solution to the three-month-long political crisis which has started to threaten national unity and stability.

This road map, accepted by the Ennahda leader Rashed al-Ghanoushi, suggests dissolving the present government which means that the Islamists will leave. This is one of the reasons why many consider this plan a waste of time.

This reveals the mistrust between the Islamists and the democratic opposition which accuse them of spouting rhetoric, doubting that they will accept to leave power peacefully.

The national dialogue’s sponsors - the General Labor Union, the Industrialist and Trade Union, the National Association of Lawyers and the Tunisian Union for the Defense of Human Rights - put forward a road map which suggests forming a new cabinet of experts who will not run in the upcoming elections. The road map states that the cabinet cannot be questioned except by at least half of the constituent council, and no confidence vote is valid except by two thirds of the council who have four weeks to do so from the beginning of the national dialogue session.

Then, the negotiations will start to choose a prime minister and set the dates for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The constituent council will choose the independent committee for the elections in one week, draft the electoral law in two, set the date for elections in two weeks and adopt the constitution in one month.

In spite of being a signatory to the road map, the Ennahda party negated its commitment by presenting different interpretations of the national dialogue document. They are able to do this as its clauses are not binding. In fact, Ennahda’s consultative council held a meeting on the same day of the National Dialogue Conference and issued a statement about its acceptance of the dialogue without any prior commitments, such as dissolving the government.

The council called for swift endorsement of the constitution, for holding transparent elections and for keeping the constituent council and the current government in place until a new parliament is elected.

Their statement praised the people for not heeding calls for chaos and disobedience and praised the courage of the parliamentarians at the constituent council, as well as the the efforts of the government, as if everything is running normally.

This statement contradicts what Foreign Policy magazine recently published about the priority shift among Tunisians from democracy to stability, with 81 percent beleiving the government is taking the wrong path towards democracy.

Away from the pomp and circumstance of the road map’s signing ceremony, real fears surfaced among the democratic opposition based on mutual mistrust of the Ennahda party. The national dialogue is set to face many obstacles and political mines that might explode at any moment, especially the following four points:

The first is the danger of dissolving the government for fear of future persecution by Ennahda’s leaders, and even dissolving the party after accusing its leaders of committing “crimes against the state.” This was hinted by a politician who accused the party of assassinating the opposition leader Chokri Belaid and the MP Mohammad al-Brahimi.

The second potential political mine is that while the opposition considers dissolving the cabinet a priority, Ennahda stresses on the importance of forming the new government while the constituent committee completes its work in parallel. As the lawyer Fawzi Jaballah said in pro-Ennahda newspaper al-Dameer: The document tends to freeze the present situation without suggesting an action plan that goes beyond the call for changing the present government. He even questioned the legitimacy of limiting the powers of the anticipated government despite it being chosen by voters.

The third issue is the ongoing debate between the Ennahda party and its opponents over the constitution.

The biggest problem might be choosing an independent personality accepted by the Islamists and their opponents alike.

Although the speeches of different parties stress on the need for “national reconciliation,” everybody is prioritizing the “legitimacy of reconciliation” rather than the “legitimacy of the polls.” This was conveyed in the inaugural speech of President Moncef Marzouki, the Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and the head of the constituent council. They stressed on preparing a favorable environment for peaceful elections and a smooth transfer of power.

President Marzouki warned of the repercussions of the political conflict on the economic situation, adding that Tunisia will honor the Arab Spring. This statement was echoed by the prime minister. As for the head of the constituent council, he said: “Dialogue will contribute to restoring the political stability in Tunisia and will convey a positive message about Tunisia inside and outside [the country].”

The Secretary-General of the Workers’ Union, Hussein Abbasi, was clear and courageous in his message when he said: “All parties need to understand that reconciliation is the only option they have if they don’t want to go into chaos, based on facts and sometimes on rumors.”

In spite of previous setbacks, all observers agree that Tunisians still have time to initiate a successful dialogue. To be successful, the dialogue must result in drafting a civilian constitution that will lay the foundation for the second republic, setting election dates and forming a new government.

But if the Tunisians fail to agree on a candidate, the situation will be open to all possibilities, including violence and indiscipline.

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