Political party watch – updates on the state of Tunisia’s political parties

A CPR supporting car with Marzouki’s signature glasses.

One of the continuing themes in Tunisian politics is the ever changing political landscape of Tunisia’s political parties. Changes within secular parties have become a daily occurrence, and the upcoming assembly of Ennahdha and the legalization of at least one Salafist party have shown the shifting sands of Tunisia’s electoral politics. As I noted earlier this month, the secular parties have had a notoriously tough time organizing. But as the results of the Egyptian elections have shown us, even strong organization among Islamists has not reduced their electoral vulnerabilities. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of updates on the state of political parties in Tunisia.

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Destourian Parties: According to a recent press release, at least four Destourian (or Bourguibist) parties are once again trying to coordinate their activities. Readers may recall that a large gathering of Destourians, led by transitional leader Beji Caid Essebsi last March, attempted to unite all of the former regime parties, only to collapse just days later.

Ettaktol: Amidst further falls in (notoriously unreliable) Tunisian opinion polls, the political bureau of Tunisia’s third major party in the Constituent Assembly attempts a further reshuffling. The party leader, Mustapha ben Jafaar eluded to a potential alliance or fusion of Ettaktol with another political party. Their congress is scheduled for next fall.

CPR: President Moncef Marzouki’s party, the CPR, after a mass exodus of officials from the party, attempted to calm supporters that it was breaking apart. Leaders reports that according to internal sources, the party is engaged at rebuilding its internal structures and recapitalizing its much depleted funds (it reportedly only has 11,000TND, or about $7,000 in its account?!). Regional congresses are scheduled in June.

Republican Party (Former PDP/Afek): The Republican Party (an amalgamation of the PDP and Afeq) has called for a national unity government. Accusing the government of incompetence, Secretary General Maya Jbiri called on the government to admit its defeat and to reconstitute a much reduced caretaker government. Readers may recall that Ennahdha had proposed this after the elections, while PDP leaders said that their duty was to stand in opposition.

PCOT: The Tunisian Communist Part (PCOT) saw another one of its offices attacked, this time just outside Tunis. The  party has been the source of continued harassment in recent weeks. The party stopped short of accusing any party, although other attacks have taken place by Salafi activists in Tunis and in other regions. Meanwhile, the PCOT continues to call for the cancellation of Tunisia’s external debt incurred under Ben Ali. While the issue has been an issue for the PCOT for some time, it was recently resurrected with the election of French president Francois Hollande who indicated support for the measure during a visit to Tunisia last year.

Related political party news: Francis Fukuyama says that the deficiency of Facebook as an organizing tool for political parties is one reason why liberal parties in Arab Spring countries have such trouble against the party machines of Islamist movements. Money quote:

[Liberals] could organize protests and demonstrations, and act with often reckless courage to challenge the old regime. But they could not go on to rally around a single candidate, and then engage in the slow, dull, grinding work of organizing a political party that could contest an election, district by district. Political parties exist in order to institutionalize political participation; those who were best at organizing, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have walked off with most of the marbles. Facebook, it seems, produces a sharp, blinding flash in the pan, but it does not generate enough heat over an extended period to warm the house.

More on Tunisian political parties here, here, and here.

6 thoughts on “Political party watch – updates on the state of Tunisia’s political parties

  1. Thanks for this useful update. I expect we’ll see plenty more shuffling of the deck over the coming months!

    How do the unions stand in all this? Apart from Nahda, the UGTT seems to me to be the most coherent and nationally-present political force. Have they aligned themselves with any party or tendency, or are they standing aloof from the party politics game?

    • UGTT is complex. They’re seen as an opposition force – and thus part of the secularist camp – though it’s obvious that there are Islamists within their ranks. Ennahda has condemned UGTT for getting involved in politics (proposing a constitution, etc) but I think that’s more rhetorical than anything. UGTT has one major vulnerability that makes them somewhat tricky for political parties – their leaders were tied to the former regime. On the other hand, they are the only force besides Ennahdha that can rally a few thousand people at a moments notice – and they seem to really get under Ennahdha’s skin. Ennahdha supporters I talk to are infuriated that UGTT seems to obstruct them at every turn. That said, they have recently met together and it is possible that a bargain could be struck – after all, the union is looking to please its membership which isn’t necessarily opposed to Ennahdha’s conservative aims. But I digress…incidentally, I wrote several articles on labor dynamics this past winter, here’s a link: https://kefteji.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/more-on-labor-and-employment-in-tunisia-17/

  2. Thankyou for this informative and interesting post. I’d like to know where all the secular parties stand on any recent opinion polls that have been conducted, is this information published in English anywhere?

    • Hi Trick, thanks for your comments. I’ll respond to both here. Regarding polling, most of what I’ve seen recently is in French or Arabic – here’s one from Sigma earlier this month: http://24sur24.posterous.com/sondage-dopinion-sigma-les-tunisiens-le-clima. It shows no secular parties earning more than 10 percent support.

      Regarding the UGTT’s structure, you’re absolutely right that the leadership changed hands. Nevertheless, the structures ties to the former regime leave them exposed to criticism that they are opportunistic. This is exactly how government officials characterized their mobilizations earlier this year – opportunists who were only looking out for themselves, not the good of the country in this critical time, etc. It will be interesting to see whether they will be reined in as negotiations with the government advance. After all, they are not a political party and do not have the same motivations as the opposition. If they see a good deal for their members, it might be tempting to take it, regardless of the political views of the organization’s leadership. Something to watch, to be sure….

      BTW, thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Political party update: Tunisian felloul step out, Communists rise, and Ennahdha stumbles | Kefteji

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