Tunisia’s roadmap for political transition in limbo

Alia Soliman , Wednesday 1 Jan 2014

After choosing a prime minister, Tunisia’s tri-phased roadmap still faces many challenges

People waving Tunisian flags gather during a protest to demand the ouster of the Islamist-dominated government, outside the Constituent Assembly headquarters in Tunis 29 July, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

This month sees the third anniversary of the Tunisian revolution and the ouster of Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali -- the revolution that started a wave of uprisings around the region. But three years later, Tunisia, like many other states of the Arab Spring, is in a predicament.

Tunisians are set on drafting a constitution by 14 January and choosing a new interim prime minister. Problems abound; the deadlines set for writing the constitution have been missed more than once, while the governing Ennahda Party and opposition National Salvation Front have proved unable to bridge their differences in talks, leaving many Tunisians wondering what real progress has been made in the three long years since Ben Ali’s ouster.

Breaking the deadlock

The national dialogue has been suspended many times because of a lack of solid ground for negotiation. The powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) secretary general, Hussein Abassi, declared the suspension of the dialogue “until there are favourable grounds for talks to succeed.”

Fundamentally, the dialogue comprises of three difficult stages.

Yusra Ghannouchi Ennahda's international spokesperson, told Ahram Online that the first phase in the dialogue is the governmental one, ie agreeing on a new prime minister who will form a new government to take over from the current one until elections are held.

The second phase involves the resolution of the final points of difference on the constitution, leading to its adoption.

Finally, the third stage is the electoral process, requiring the formation of an independent electoral commission, adoption of the electoral law and setting a date for the elections.

“Ennahda had always called for comprehensive dialogue and stressed that the transition phase requires consensus among as many political and social players as possible, to ensure a smooth and successful transition. We value the efforts of the UGTT and other civil society organisations hosting the dialogue in reaching agreement so as to successfully complete the transition to a stable democracy in Tunisia,” says Ghannouchi.

However, Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian human rights activist, tells Ahram Online that she does not have great faith in the talks. “I think that we are wasting too much time and energy in the national dialogue."  

“I think that the present government has failed on all levels and I think that people in power today should step down without putting conditions, as the country is experiencing a major crisis and is facing continuous regression under their rule,” Ben Mhenni says.

Hafedh Al-Gharbi, Tunisian lecturer at the Faculty of Humanities of Sousse, believes the talks will lead to the end of the deadlock, though it might take longer than usual.

Finding the most suitable prime minister took nearly two months, so there are chances that the choice of government members too will be subject to a lengthy debate. But there will be "light at the end of the tunnel," he says.

About two weeks ago, a new prime minister was appointed. According to New York Times, Mehdi Jomaa, the current minister of industry, will take over as prime minister and lead a caretaker government until elections next year.

But Ben Mhenni says that while it is true that a new prime minister has been appointed but the previous prime minster is still taking decisions as he has not yet resigned. “The agreement upon the new prime minister took us four months, so what about the discussions about the other members of the government and the next steps to be taken?”

Constitutional deadlines

AP reported that Tunisia's “rival political parties” have finally decided that the 14 January will be the deadline for adopting the new constitution. This constitution is Tunisia’s first since the revolution.


Ben Mhenni is sceptical but hopes the constitution will be written by that date. Mhenni asserts that this will not be the case if the representatives of the Constituent Assembly continue at their current pace.

“I don’t think that all the parties will reach a consensus on the important articles of the constitution.”

Nonetheless, the problem today is not a problem of constitution. The situation is much more complicated.

“We are experiencing a political crisis with different consequences for the economy, for society and for freedoms,” Ben Mhenni concludes.

Unlike their political elites, manyordinary Tunisians are actually calling for a second revolution; they are already protesting and are unsatisfied with the practices of Ennahda. The lack of security, the recurrent assassinations and the political corruption make this dissatisfaction unsurprising.

"Three years after the revolution, the political transition proved to be a failure. It is true that we had more or less successful elections but I personally think that the rise of an Islamist party to power had put an end to the dreams and ambitions of a big number of Tunisians," Ben Mhenni says.

Other issues, such as women’s rights, and the status of human rights in general, cause alarm to many activists. Reports about the persistence of torture in police stations and prisons fuel these worries.

Al-Gharby believes that in order for Tunisia to follow the path of the road map and to have political democratic transition, fair and transparent elections must be organised in the near future.

In spite of all the deficiencies, failures and disappointments, Tunisia has a strong civil society, and this will make a difference.

Yusra Ghannouchi believes that the next two or three weeks will see the completion of all three phases of the Quartet roadmap.

“Adopting the constitution, the electoral law and commission and a clear date for the elections, and putting a new government in place through the national dialogue will end the state of uncertainty about the rest of the transition period,” he concludes.

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