Tunisia: The Revolution goes on…
Thameur Mekki - 16/12/2011
Ennahda and its allies salivate over power. Civil society and the Opposition struggle against “the return of dictatorship”. The Revolution continues.
It took approximately 120 hours of heated debate, political manoeuvrings and disputes between the troika and the opposition to approve the mini-constitution with 141 votes for and 37 against. The 217 elected members of the Constituent Assembly have passed the law on the provisional public policy on Saturday 10th of December 2011, a few minutes after midnight (23.00 GMT). This is a text regulating the appointment of the new Tunisian president and his future prime minister. Composed of 26 articles, this constitution determines their prerogatives and those of the Constituent Assembly for the coming year at the end of which the final constitution will be adopted.
11 months after the Tunisian people have ousted Ben Ali, nearly 45 days after the first free and independent elections in Tunisia, the country where the wave of rebellion shaking the Arab world began, is still bubbling. The social and political demands continue. Right opposite the Constituent Assembly’s headquarters, located at the Bardo municipality (Northwest of Tunis), a sit-in has been organised since the 29th of November, the date when the discussions on the constitution began. With “Struggling against the return of dictatorship” as its motto, the Bardo sit-in focuses on the “No to tyranny” slogan.
The troika is sharing the pie
After the elections held on the 23rd October, this three-party coalition formed by Ennahda Movement, the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL) alias Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic (CPR) has presented a pre-established draft of the constitution at the Constituent Assembly. The three parties agreed on the distribution of the State’s key positions and on the broad outlines of this mini-constitution other than at the Assembly. The Ennahda Movement (89 MPs), the CPR (29 MPs) and the Ettakatol (20 MPs) representing 75% of the Constituent Assembly’s votes have shared the pie.
The agreement stipulated that the President of the Assembly is Mustapha Ben Jafar, leader of Ettakatol, a left-wing party, member of Socialist International. According to the troika’s deal, Moncef Marzouki, leader of the CPR, a left-wing party with a conservative rhetoric should be the country’s president. As for Hamadi Jebali, secretary general of the Ennahda Movement, he should be appointed prime minister – incurring the wrath of the opposition and of more a dozen associations and other civil society organisations that believe that this appointment concentrates too much power to the detriment of the Constituent Assembly and the presidency.
The Bardo sit-in, civil society becoming active
Twelve days after the beginning of the sit-in and the approval of the law on provisional public policy, the tents are still there and dozens of protestors continue to enjoy the sympathy of hundreds of outraged citizens. Is this an influential opposition? Dalila Msaddak, vice-president of the association “Le Manifeste du 20 Mars”1, represents one of the most active civil society organisations in the sit-in. Here comes her self-evaluation: “Yes the sit-in is effective in both ways. It helped sound the alarm. On the one hand, the democrat MP’s have become aware of the freedom-killing elements in the mini-constitution’s draft prepared by the troika. On the other hand, the members of the three-party coalition have revised their positions. It has also allowed us to achieve some changes,” states the activist before continuing “the sit-in has also awakened the people. It’s not easy for the citizens to analyse the content of a legal document and draw conclusions, to identify the achievement and the threats it embodies.”
The opposition parties including Progressive Democratic Party (centre), the Democratic Modernist Pole (centre left) and the Afek Tounes Party (right-wing), hold 12% of votes. They are supported by some other MPs and hardly represent 20% of votes. Often defending the same points claimed by the protestors, they have managed to tip the balance slightly for a better equilibrium between the public authorities. However, the greedy appetite for power of Ennahda and its allies is difficult to counteract.
The opposition: a prodigious Tom Thumb!
Despite its small numerical strength, the opposition has managed to play an active role even if the voting machine’s strength is almost unshakeable. Let’s try to review a few rounds of this political battle to see the issues and resolutions a bit more clearly.
First round: The Constituent Assembly voted its confidence in the government by an absolute majority (50+1%). Whereas the troika proposed that a majority could give confidence in the government but 2/3 of the Constituent Assembly’s MPs could withdraw it. This is a drawback since the Ennahda Party has more than 41% of MPs i.e. 2/3 of the Constituent Assembly’s elected members.
Second round: In the mini-constitution established by the troika, the president and the prime minister define the broad guidelines on foreign policy. He is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The president only appoints or thanks senior officers with the prime minister’s “agreement”. Lastly, the legislation passed by the assembly no longer requires the prime minister’s “agreement” but a “consultation” between the two parties.
Third round: One of the most important demands of the sit-inners was the holding of a popular referendum for the adoption of the final constitution but this did not pass. However, the version adopted by the Assembly is different than that of troika stating that the law is adopted by 2/3 of the votes at the first and second reading. The mini-constitution adopted the holding of a popular referendum, as a third alternative is the constitution is not adopted by 2/3 of votes at the first and second reading.
The CPR and Ettakatol’s internal conflicts
It is important to note that the opposition and the sit-inners were not the only pressure forces against the troika. Many CPR and Ettakatol partisans were outraged. On Monday the 5th of December, dozens of activists of Mustapha Ben Jaffar’s party have protested to express their disapproval of the party’s alliance with Ennahda. They launched a wake-up call on social networks: During the election campaign, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, leader of the party, has denied the rumours of a future alliance with the Ennahda Movement. “Neither before nor after the elections will Ettakatol ally with Ennahda or any other party” declared Mustapha Ben Jaafar at a press conference held on the 15th October. Nonetheless, he is not the only one going through an internal conflict. The CPR is also going through its own even if the tone of the CPR’s youth is less threatening than that of Ettakatol’s partisans. Until then, about 250 Internet users have signed their petition circulating on the net.
A population lost in conjecture?
In this legislation jungle, the Tunisians spent two weeks with their eyes glued to the television screens to follow the Constituent’s working sessions. What a migraine! The current issues are difficult to understand. After 50 years of dictatorship, the people are not very equipped. On my way to the Constituent headquarters, I met Aymen, a 29-year-old taxi-man: “All political parties are losers. I voted Ennahda and nothing has changed. And these sit-inners don’t want to give time. Everyone wants everything straight away”. There’s a women distributing leaflets near the roundabout. “I belong to political party, to no association. I’m handing out these leaflets so that the people would understand the current issues. It’s important to know that dictatorship could return,” she states. “The reactions clearly show that these people do not really understand why the sit-inners are here”, she adds.
The Tunisian left-wing historical slogan “Labour, Freedom, National Dignity” acclaimed during the protests that have led to the fall of the authorities last December and January, resounds at the Bardo’s sit-in. Some of the sit-inners are members of the Unemployed Graduates Union (UDC)2 while others are employers of the Gafsa Phosphate Company struggling for their working rights. With no social security, the wounded of the Revolution are on hunger strike. All these urgent demands should be the new government’s priorities. The greed for power will have to face the hunger of the wounded and the unemployed. The authorities will have to face a vigilant population who gave up fear and who intends to make full use of their rights and take to the streets at any time.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech