The Tunisian parliament (or constituent assembly, tasked with writing a new constitution) has been temporarily suspended by its president Mustapha Ben Jaafar. In a live speech broadcasted on national television he explained during ten minutes the reasons for suspending the parliament until “a solution is found, by all parties involved, to get the country out of its crisis”.
Mustapha Ben Jaafar is leading the social-democratic Ettakatol party and part of the government. When the assassination of opposition MP Muhamed Brahmi plunged the country into a crisis his party demanded that a national salvation government should be formed or it would step out of the ruling coalition. A demand that must have annoyed coalition partner Ennahda. For a couple of days Ben Jaafar must have given the process in trying to find a solution some time. Nevertheless the pressure from both anti and pro-government supporters increased every day when both were demonstrating in Tunis to show their strength and express their demands. A lot of things were said but for sure in one thing, a solution to get the country out of its crisis seems further away than ever.
Mustapha Ben Jaafar started his speech (video above) by explaining the current situation in Tunisia and that all parties involved have not been able to come even close to a solution. He was careful enough to emphasize that this goes for all parties involved, without exception. Moreoever he explained the importance of having to find a solution because Tunisia is in its transition phase to a democracy and the people are fed up with parties fighting each other whereas solutions and stability are expected from them. The fact that two important opposition parties (Call of Tunisia and the Popular Front) demanded parliament to be temporarily suspended before continuing negotiations must have convinced Ben Jaafar that this is the right thing to do now. In the end he emphasized that all parties involved have a historic responsibility in bringing the country together and finding a solution. He also asked the powerful labour union to mediate in the process and turned to its Secretary General Houcine Abbassi to try and help solve the issue.
So how do Tunisians and the parties involved respond? It is obvious from statements of Nahda politicians that Ben Jaafar never consulted them neither did he inform them of his decision. To put it lightly, they are not happy with his decision. Nor are Nahda activists. Ennahda organized a succesful rally last Saturday where tens of thousands showed up to show their support for the government. They emphasized yesterday again that dissolving the parliament is a “no no” and the future government should be headed by the current Prime Minister to respect the government’s legitimacy. Now all of a sudden their coalition partner “gives in to the opposition” and, although temporarily, suspends parliament. Nahda activists on Facebook are really angry at Ben Jaafar and consider him “a traitor”.
The opposition parties and especially demonstrators are very happy. Although the parliament has been suspended temporarily, they see it as a sign of victory. Today is the 10th day (like all previous evenings) that demonstrators come to the Bardo square in Tunis to show their dissatisfaction with government and more specifically Ennahda. Among those demonstrators many Popular Front and Call of Tunisia supporters can found, the two parties that demanded that parliament should temporarily suspended as long as negotiations take place. Which is according to my knowledge not a demand that has been there from the beginning, although the two parties did demand the dissolution of parliament. One thing is for sure, Bardo square will have something to celebrate tonight. And although a small victory that will be celebrated and shared on (social) media widely. Ennahda had its party last Saturday, now its the opposition’s turn.
The importance of the labour Union as a mediator is also called upon again when Ben Jaafar asked Secretary General Abbassi to get involved in solving in the crisis. They will organize most probably in the upcoming two weeks meetings between all political parties and civil society components to come to a common understanding in how to get the country out of the crisis. I expect Ennahda in the upcoming hours to come with an official statement and they are probably meeting now about the question what to do next.
The issue at stake is three-fold; 1) what to do with the parliament, or constituent assembly, that is close to finishing the new constitution after one and a half year of work? 2) what to do with the constitution itself that is about to be finished? 3) what to do with the government that will have to lead the country until the next elections in December?