|Date: Sep 24, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|High stakes for Ennahda in Tunisia’s legislative polls|
|Aymen Jamli| Agence France Presse|
TUNIS: Snubbed by voters in the first round of Tunisia’s presidential election, the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party must overcome an “identity crisis” to secure its political future in upcoming legislative polls, experts said.
Midmonth saw the first round of the country’s second free presidential elections since the 2011 ouster of autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who died in exile days after the poll.
It was the first time Ennahda has contested the presidency, putting forward as its candidate interim Parliament Speaker Abdelfattah Mourou, who is seen as a moderate and advocates more openness in the party.
Mourou came third with 434,000 votes - 12.88 percent - a disappointing result for the largest party in Parliament. That compared with 1.5 million votes won by Ennahda in 2011 in the country’s first free elections, for a constituent assembly, that marked the party’s political comeback.
Ennahda was not alone in its recent setback. All the candidates who have been at the forefront of the political scene in recent years, such as Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, were also knocked back in the first round. The vote reshaped the political landscape, as two outsiders came out ahead, having campaigned against the system: constitutional law professor Kais Saied and imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui.
After failing to reach the presidential runoff, the stakes are high for Ennahda in Oct. 6 legislative polls.
In an attempt to entice its base, the party Friday pledged its support for Saied, who is considered socially conservative and siphoned off many of its votes, particularly among young Tunisians.
Ennahda governed as part of a coalition with the Nidaa Tounes party, which Karoui helped found and which won 2014 elections on an anti-Islamist platform but later splintered.
For political scientist Hamza Meddeb, the decline of Ennahda can be explained by internal conflicts within the movement over its direction.
By participating in the coalition and “acquiescing to neoliberal economic policies” that did not lower unemployment or prices, Ennahda “lost its ability to activate socio-economic reform and anti-corruption arguments to rebuild its legitimacy and support base,” Meddeb said in a report for Carnegie Middle East Center published in early September.
Since Ennahda made the “landmark” decision in 2016 to “abandon preaching and focus on politics” the party has experienced “an identity crisis,” he said.
As an indication of its internal shake-up, Ennahda - one of Tunisia’s most structured parties, where disagreements rarely surface - in recent months has seen a series of resignations and public challenges to its candidate choices for the legislative and presidential elections.
The change in the electoral calendar to bring forward the presidential election after the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi posed an extra challenge. The poll pushed the legislative elections, for which Ennahda is better armed, into the background.
The party hopes to keep its 69 seats in the 217-seat Parliament.