“Tunisia’s fledgling democracy is threatened by a weak opposition that fails to offer a viable alternative to the well-organized Islamists in power, and discontent is taking the form of riots with extremist overtones instead,” reports suggest.
The opposition also faces the problem that Tunisians have largely positive views of the country’s current leadership and the moderate Islamist Ennahda ruling party, according to a new Pew Center survey.
Democratic commitment explains why the majority of citizens support Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda co-founder Rached Ghannouchi, and current President of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar, as well as the leading coalition party, Pew reports.
“Tunisians who favor democracy over a strong leader give the scholar-politician Ghannouchi a 73% positive rating, while only 58% of those who favor a strong leader agree,” its survey finds. “On the other hand, 64% of Tunisians who prefer a strong leader have a favorable view of former Prime Minister Essebsi, while roughly half (52%) of those who choose democracy say the same.”
The secular opposition has failed to develop a compelling alternative or a sufficiently coherent coalition to challenge the Islamists, observers suggest.
In the parliamentary elections, non-Islamist parties won a majority, but were so divided that Ennahda emerged as the strongest block, analyst Hussein Ibish noted.
“In both Tunisia and Egypt, non-Islamist candidates spent far too much effort trying to scare voters about their Islamist rivals rather than presenting a proactive vision of tolerance, inclusion, competency, jobs, social justice and so forth,” he writes.
Opposition politicians appear to lack the Islamists’ self-discipline and strategic vision, says a leading civil society activist. “The opposition’s role is important to push the party in power to self-criticism and revise its policies,” said Slaheddine Jurchi (above).
“There is a problem of political culture. There is an absence of the culture of coalitions and working together, and there are problems of egoism and clashes of personalities among the heads of parties.”
Former premier Caid Beiji Essebsi recently formed a new opposition party known as Nida Tunis or Tunisia’s Call in an effort to unite the opposition.
“We called on the other parties to create the conditions allowing the alternation of power but they didn’t do enough,” he said, “so we have created a movement open to all political forces in the country.”
But the opposition’s priority should be building a base in rural Tunisia, says political scientist Ghazi Gheriari of Tunis University.
“The opposition has little penetration into the Tunisian countryside,” he said. “The results of this election showed two Tunisias: a Tunisia in tune with the opposition where it did respectably and the countryside where this opposition is not credible and has no voice.”