Fate of Tunisia’s Ghannouchi in balance as party debates his position

The head of the Ennahda Movement has served his parties maximum number of terms but some want the bylaws changed to allow him to stay on

Mandatory Credit: Photo by MOHAMED MESSARA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10435508a)
Leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, Rachid Ghannouchi speaks during parliamentary election campaign in Tunis, Tunisia 03 October 2019. The parliamentary election are set for 06 October 2019.
Parliamentary election campaign in Tunis, Tunisia - 03 Oct 2019
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The political future of Tunisia’s Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi was being debated on Wednesday as his party-set term limit as leader came to a close.

Mr Ghannouchi is near the end of his second consecutive four-year term as head of the Ennahda Movement, the moderate Islamist party he helped create.

The party is split between those who want Mr Ghannouchi to stay on as leader and those who want him to preserve his image as an advocate for democracy by handing over the reins.

Ennahda is the largest in Tunisia’s parliament, holding 54 of the 217 seats.

Last October, party members who opposed Mr Ghannouchi’s third term, known as the Group of 100, signed a letter calling on him to respect the party’s legal and institutional structures and not to try to amend the bylaws to stay in power.

The Group of 100 effectively questioned Mr Ghannouchi’s commitment to democracy and the very concept of free elections and rules of law that led their party to take the largest share of Parliament.

They said that, at the very least, Mr Ghannouchi must delegate some of his powers to his deputy.

Ennahda’s popularity has waned in recent years, and Mr Ghannouchi has also come under increased scrutiny.

In May, 8,000 Tunisians signed a petition in May demanding clarity on his finances after reports, which he denied, of vast wealth beyond the means of his party and parliamentary salaries.

Tunisia has suffered political and social instability in recent weeks, with protests in several regions. The country’s economic downturn since the pandemic prompted the influential Tunisian General Labour Union to call on President Kais Saied to convene a National Dialogue.

In return, Mr Saied announced a six-month extension of the country’s state of emergency on December 27, which has been in place since a terrorist attack, claimed by ISIS, on a bus carrying presidential guards in 2015.

The action grants exceptional powers to the security forces to control the press, imposes curbs on the press and outlaws strikes and meetings that “create disorder”.