Tunisia’s Ennahda party rebrands for election race

This TV grab taken from Ettounsiya TV shows Tunisian leaders attending a TV debate for presidential candidates on Saturday in Tunis. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

Tunisia’s Ennahda party rebrands for election race

  • Ennahda party only entered its first-ever presidential contest after polling was brought forward

TUNIS: Chastened by its early experiences of holding power in post-revolution Tunisia, Islamist-inspired party Ennahda has moderated its image and selected lawyer Abdelfattah Mourou as its candidate for next Sunday’s presidential election.

Hesitant at first, Ennahda party only entered its first-ever presidential contest after polling was brought forward following the July death of incumbent President Beji Caid Essebsi.

In the absence of any ally to support and faced with a rushed electoral calendar, Ennahda came forward with its own candidate rather than abstain and risk a poor showing at legislative polls set for Oct. 6.

“Tunisians have grown used to the idea of Ennahda as a normal party, so the situation is more favorable,” according to its head, Rached Ghannouchi, who was exiled during longtime autocrat Zine El-Abidine‘s rule, when Ennahda was banned.

Ghannouchi has been a major force in Tunisia’s democratization process since the 2011 revolution that ousted Ben Ali, and is running for office himself for the first time in next month’s parliamentary vote.

Whereas the last legislative elections, in 2014, were fought along pro- and anti-Islamist lines, economic and social factors are the key issues in the next polls.

HIGHLIGHT

In the absence of any ally to support and faced with a rushed electoral calendar, Ennahda came forward with its own candidate rather than abstain and risk a poor showing at legislative polls set for Oct. 6.

“This divide between Islamists and supporters of secularism is no longer ... credible,” said political scientist Hamza Meddeb, pointing out that all of Tunisia’s main political parties have governed in coalition with Ennahda over the past five years. But Ennahda carries the scars of its first taste of political power after the party in late 2011 won the first legislative polls after Ben Ali’s fall.

Weighed down by crises and faced with a strong opposition, Ennahda had to make way for a Cabinet of technocrats in early 2014.

Since 2016, Ennahda has been branding itself as a “civil” movement that distinguishes between politics and religion, and it now describes itself as a “Muslim democratic” party.

Opinions are divided on whether its candidate will emerge as one of the two candidates who go forward to a second round of presidential polling. But Mourou, who has been interim speaker of Parliament since July, is widely seen as a moderate and far less divisive figure than Ghannouchi.

“He’s the least Islamist of the Islamists, he can attract voters who are not close to the party,” according to Meddeb.

A lawyer in his 70s who wears traditional costume while advocating more openness in the party, Mourou is not typical of Ennahda.

Although it was beaten in 2014 by Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party, Ennahda took part in a coalition. In effect, it has never been fully left out of power in the last eight years of transition to democracy.

In the presidential contest, voters will for the first time have to decide whether they can entrust Ennahda with the office of head of state, responsible for the North African nation’s defense.

Trust on social issues is also a key factor.

As for Ghannouchi, he has his sights set on the post of Parliament speaker after the October vote and wants Ennahda to play a key role in forming Tunisia’s next government, political analysts say.

Editorialist Ziyed Krichen sees the party keeping up its “strategy of alliances so as not to be center stage.”

But “if Mourou gets a low score, it risks being swept away in the legislative polls,” he said.


Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

Updated 40 min 4 sec ago

Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

  • President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition
  • It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task

JERUSALEM: Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz is set to receive an official mandate to form the country’s next government but has few options after last month’s elections left him in a near tie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he failed to build a 61-seat majority. Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.
President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition. It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task.
Still, Gantz faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government. Together, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White control a solid 65-seat majority. But the two men are divided over who should lead any new government.
Netanyahu has insisted he head the government, at least for the first two years, and that it include his right-wing allies, conditions that Gantz has repeatedly rejected.
Netanyahu is likely to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks, and Gantz has said Netanyahu should resolve his legal troubles before returning to the top post.
Gantz could potentially break up the right-wing alliance and recruit some of the smaller parties to his coalition. But that might be seen as a major betrayal by those parties’ voters.
Another option would be to form a minority government with Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged as kingmaker after his party won eight seats and has refused to endorse either Gantz or Netanyahu. Gantz might be able to convince the Arab Joint List, which won 13 seats, to support the coalition from the outside.
That would bring down Netanyahu but result in a highly unstable government. It’s also far from clear that Lieberman, a nationalist with a history of harsh rhetoric toward the Arab minority, would support such a scheme. No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government.
The political deadlock dates back to April, when Lieberman refused to join a right-wing coalition under Netanyahu. In response, parliament voted to dissolve itself, leading to an unprecedented repeated election in September. A similar scenario could play out again.
The political deadlock has delayed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited peace plan. The Palestinians have already rejected the plan, accusing the administration of extreme and unfair bias toward Israel.