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Tunisian Islamists Conceed Defeat to Secular, Nidaa Tounes, Party,

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Tunisia: Nidaa Tounes Beats Islamists.

Tunisia’s Ennahda party, the first Islamist movement to secure power after the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolts, conceded defeat on Monday in elections that are set to make its main secular rival the strongest force in parliament.

Official results from Sunday’s elections – the second parliamentary vote since Tunisians set off uprisings across much of the Arab World by overthrowing autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali – were still to be announced.

But a senior official at Ennahda, which ruled in a coalition until it was forced to make way for a caretaker government during a political crisis at the start of this year, acknowledged defeat by the secular Nidaa Tounes party.

We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes,” the official, Lotfi Zitoun, told Reuters. However, he repeated the party’s call for a new coalition including Ennahda. “We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country.”

Earlier, a party source said preliminary tallies showed the secular party had won 80 seats in the 217-member assembly, ahead of 67 secured by Ennahda.

Reuters.

These are some percentage figures.

Nidaa Tounes 38.24% = 83 seats Ennahdha: 31.33% = 68 seats Free Patriotic Union (run by rich businessman and Africa football club owner Slim Riahi), : 7.83% = 17 Seats Popular Front (the left bloc): 5.25% = 12 seats Afek Tounes: 2.3% = 5 seats Congress for the Republic: 1.84% = 4 seats The Initiative: 1.84% = 4 seats

Tunisia Live.

Le Monde reports,

The Islamist party knew he would see a decline in popularity but had not imagined such a setback. Triumphantly elected in 2011, when the first free elections were held after the fall of Ben Ali, the movement had two difficult years in government, marked by economic failure, political assassinations and a rise in terrorism.

On Sunday, voters did not hesitate to say they had voted Ennahda in 2011 and had been then disappointed. So that they had decided to turn to Nidaa Tounès. “We need people who can make the country move forward “, noted a resident of Rafraf, small coastal town in the north, attracted as were many voters by the figure of Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister and leader of the transitional government after the revolution.

While British commentators  like the Guardian’s Seumas Milne had described Ennahda as “progressive” and “centre left” critics from Tunisia’s important secular left and labour movement had accused it of harbouring a hard-line Islamist wing, and practising neo-liberal economics.

The assassination of the left leader Chokri Belaïd (February 2013) indicated the existence of a far-right Islamist current prepared to use violence against the progressive movement. It as a key moment in defining the difference between Islamist reaction – including that of Ennahda – and the Tunisian left (seeTunisie : Le mouvement ouvrier à la croisée des chemins.). At one point it looked as if the fringes of the party would work with the religious hard-liners  and establish Islamic ‘mini-states’ based on the Sharia.

This did not happen.

The Parliamentary Islamists recoiled from the terrorism of the Salafist inspired street fighters.

All Tunisian elected parties have since accepted a new (2014) Constitution, unique in the Arab world, which establishes a framework for open decentralised government, promotes gender equality and accepts freedom of religion (that is the right not to be a Muslim), although restricts attacks on faith.

Nidaa Tounes (the حركة نداء تونسNidā’ Tūnis, French: Appel de la Tunisie, Call of Tunisia), is a secular party, or as Wikipedia calls it “secularist”. “founded by the former prime minister Beji Caid el Sebsi after the post-revolution 2011 elections. It describes itself as a “modernist” party.”

In this context modernist means that the party is dedicated to democracy, gender equality, social openness, and is not prepared to allow movements imposing Islamic rules on daily life. Economic development is seen as a condition of progress.

“The party has patched together former members of ousted president Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally, secular leftists, progressive liberals and Destourians (followers of Tunisia’s “founder” Habib Bourguiba). In addition, the party has the support of many members of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the national employers’ union, UTICA. They believe that Tunisia’s secular forces have to unite to counter the dominance of the Islamist Ennahda Movement.”

Nidaa Tounes’ promises increased growth and a reduction in unemployment (currently at 15,20%).

It is believed that the party’s criticisms of the “instrumentalisation” of Islam, experienced candidates (regardless of their Destourian past),  and its call for “sécurité et de la stabilité” accounts for its successes.

To their left with 17 seats the Popular Front has achieved Parliamentary representation. It suffered from leftist in-fighting, and the alliance of some trade unionists with Nidaa Tounes. Nevertheless it also remains linked to the left-wing of the powerful  Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT).

It is believed that the UGTT and Tunisia’s strong civil society have helped hinder the growth of an Islamist anti-democratic movement.

Nevertheless over  2,400 Tunisian citizens (out of a population of 10,89 million) have joined the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

It is expected that very different social conflicts will result from any attempt by the probable national unity government that the elections are likely to create (led by Nidaa Tounes) to tie a ‘modernising’ economic agenda to neo-liberal policies. Calling themselves “technocrats” is an obvious attempt by politicians to deflect opposition to unpopular measures which could include further austerity.

For the moment minds are concentrated on the defeat of Ennahda.

There are inevitable charges of – marginal – electoral malpractice.

But some things stand out: watching the images of voting in Tunis on the (UK) telly news stations today you could have been excused for simply thinking how ordinary the Tunisians looked – democratic, calm, modern people.

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