Tunisian opposition cries foul over new prime minister

Article Summary
Tunisia’s opposition claims that a consensus was not reached in appointing Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa.

After months of discussions and delays, the national dialogue has delivered a new prime minister. This laborious process gave birth to Mehdi Jomaa, the new prime minister who will be monitored very closely. Moreover, Jomaa should quickly make strides to establish national security and to ensure free and fair elections.

Ennahdha, Ettakatol and the Quartet applauded this choice, while the opposition cried foul. Indeed, Tunisia has gained a new prime minister but has not succeeded in reaching consensus. Although there will be less pressure, the crisis will continue.

Jomaa is a technocrat who neither has known affiliation with Ennahdha nor aspirations in the next elections. Moreover, he is in his 50s and seems to be the perfect candidate for the prime minister post in Tunisia, a country which has been undergoing a critical political crisis for nearly a year. Yet, despite all his qualities, Jomaa could not garner consensus.

The opposition, which reunited under the banner of the Salvation Front, refused this last-minute candidate who emerged out of the Ennahdha–Ettakatol marriage.

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Was the refusal a matter of principle reflecting an ordinary bad faith, or was it a justified one reflecting anxiety about the future?

Jomaa, who has been the minister of industry for nine months, served as director of Hutchinson Division at Aerospace, a subsidiary of the French group Total and partner of major manufacturers. Jomaa, a Sahelian who's originally from Mahdia, is an engineer who graduated from Tunisia’s National University of Engineering (ENIT) in 1988 and holds a postgraduate degree in mechanics, computation and structure modeling.

In theory, his education did not predispose him to occupy such a position of high responsibility. As soon as his name was revealed, the opposition reacted. The first surprise was that Nidaa Tunis and al-Joumhouri, which were at loggerheads throughout the week, adopted a common position and left the dialogue room, slamming the door behind them. In a statement to Business News, Iyed Dahmani, a member of the Constituent Assembly, said, “It is unthinkable to appoint a minister belonging to a government that is no longer wanted and that has proven its failure.”

Al-Jomhouri’s Issam Chebbi had difficulty accepting this “forced passage.” After having stubbornly defended the candidacy of the octogenarian Ahmed Mestiri for weeks, he stated that the rejection of Jomaa reflected the “refusal of his party to be a false witness to a rigged solution, under the pretext of making the national dialogue successful, even if that means derailing the democratic transition.”

The same story resonated with Noureddine Ben Ticha and almost all Nidaa Tunis activists. The position of other allies of the Union for Tunisia (UPT) and the Salvation Front was not very different. They refused to take part in this masked vote to designate a new prime minister.

Finally, Jomaa passed in extremis through receiving nine votes out of a total of 18 present and 11 voting members. The Quartet, consisting of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Bar Association and the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), can breathe now. The national dialogue, which began months ago, has not failed, apparently. Rachid Ghannouchi applauded, while the left cried foul and a side of the opposition (mainly the Democratic Alliance) called for ending this lingering deadlock.

Things are heating up on social networks. We are still waiting for the official reactions of leaders, but opinions differ.

Anonymous Facebook pages that are close to the left are publishing texts and images announcing that Jomaa is none other than the brother of Ghazi Jomaa, who was the parliamentary secretary of former foreign minister and son-in-law of Rached Ghannouchi, Rafik Absessalem. He is also the brother of Wahbi Jomaa, a holder of Ettakatol office.

He is also the son-in-law of Mohamed Ben Salem (a leader in Ennahda and minister of agriculture) and brother-in-law of Slim Ben Hamidane (a CPR leader and minister of state domains).

Journalist Om Zied said Jomaa has been a fervent supporter of Ennahda since he was a student at the School of Engineering, which is enough for her to discredit him.

Activist Nidaa Karim Baklouti Barketallah (a former supporter of the al-Joumhouri and Ettakatol parties) added, “Ennahda showed how it can legalize what is illegal by appointing a minister of its government to head a new government, reproducing a third troika with a support of a worn-out Quartet that is under a lot of pressure.”

For his part, journalist Mehdi Kattour said, sarcastically, “We are very thrilled that the person who was primarily responsible for the decline of the production of phosphate by half is at the head of the government.”

Taieb Laaguili, a member of the IRVA committee, said: “The game is over for the opposition, the martyrs of the revolution, and for the country. Ennahda will once again be the winning party in the next election. What a mess.”

However, this categorical rejection among the left wing is not shared by everyone. Many activists remain silent. They are skeptical about what stance to take. After all, Mehdi Jomaa is not “old,” and there is no real, good reason to reject him. He has what it takes to lead the country until the next elections and deserves, after all, the benefit of the doubt.

In this regard, activist Khaled Abdeljaoued said: “Those who are spreading lies about Mehdi Jomaa should take screenshots!

“Otherwise, our future head of government is the least close to major lobbies that are sharing this country like a cake.

“He is perhaps affiliated with Ennahda (this is to be proved) but he is not friends with the corrupt group! He is perhaps affiliated [with the] Ettakatol party (this is to be proved), but he does not mate with its leader [i.e., Khayam Turki]. … 

"He is perhaps close to the CPR, but not friends with the party’s network engineer [i.e., Nasr Ali Chakroun]. In any case, he is certainly not friends with Kamel Letaif nor with Rachid Ghannouchi! Ah, I was told that he loves gas! We should stay vigilant!”

Abdeljaoued’s message to all his left-wing friends cannot be any clearer. “The transition process is ongoing. Jomaa is not the best to lead the government in this phase. I would have preferred someone else, but he is not the worst of the ‘proposed list,’” he said.

“Stop complaining and unite. The battle is ongoing,” he added.

If Bourguiba, who was in favor of step-by-step policy, were still alive, he would have said: “You got rid of Laarayedh and the CPR, so accept Jomaa and continue your struggle for other achievements, instead of objecting just for the sake of objecting.”

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Found in: tunisian politics, tunisian parliament, tunisian opposition, tunisian elections, transitional government, rachid ghannouchi, nidaa tunis, ennahda movement
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