Minority parties set to play kingmakers in Tunisia

Minority parties set to play kingmakers in Tunisia
Current of Love, Popular Front, and Free Patriotic Front are all deciding who to support in the forthcoming runoff between Moncef Marzouki and Beji Caid Essebsi.
4 min read
01 December, 2014
Tunisians will return to the ballot boxes later this month [AFP]

In the next few days, Tunisia's political parties will decide which candidate they will support as the presidential election becomes a two-man race.

The fate of the candidates - interim president Moncef Marzouki, and former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi - lies in the hands of an array of small parties.

Marzouki and Essebsi won 73 percent of the vote between them in the first round. It means that they will have to win over the voters from the three remaining largest parties who came behind Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes in October's parliamentary elections.

Over the coming days, the two candidates will be targeting Hamma Hammami’s Popular Front, the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) led by Slim Riahi, and Mohammad Hechmi Hamdi's Current of Love party. These three picked up close to 20 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, and the votes of their supporters will be critical in the runoff.


The UPL's candidate, Slim Riahi, won about six percent of the vote in the first round. Mohsen Hassan, the party's president, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that despite its candidate being knocked out, UPL still had a role to play.

"We will announce the name of the candidate we will support by Tuesday. We won't be neutral. The UPL will fully be engaged in the election campaign and call on its supporters to vote for [a candidate]," he said.

Hassan said party leaders would meet both candidates before choosing, but denied that the UPL was waiting to be offered ministerial posts. Regardless of the election outcome, the party would be supportive in its capacity as a "positive opposition" party, it said. Political analysts and sources close to the party agreed that the UPL will most likely support Essebsi.

     The Current of Love won the Sidi Bouzeid constituency, which carries huge symbolic significance for Tunisians.

Going with the flow

Members of the Current of Love party have said they would support Marzouki due to a "convergence of their ideas and stances".

However, the general coordinator of Hamdi's campaign, Nizar al-Nasibi, has denied the party had made a formal decision.

"The issue of support depends on the level of commitment from any of the candidates to the party's programme," he said. "We want a president who would champion the issues of the poor and be their spokesman, particularly as the president has the power to propose legislation."

As the first round margin between Essebsi and Marzouki was less than 200,000, the 180,000 people that voted for Hamdi could be crucial to the outcome of round two. 

The Current of Love garnered thousands of votes in the first round, not to mention winning the Sidi Bouzeid constituency. Given that the city started the Arab Spring, when protests and clashes with security forces followed the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi outside the governor's office, Sidi Bouzeid carries huge symbolic significance for Tunisians.

No popular consensus

The Popular Front, which won about eight percent of first-round votes, is known to be in a dispute with Marzouki, making it look nearly inevitable that the party will support Essebsi. However, this is not set in stone.

The Front has adopted a stance of "non-participation" in an Islamist Ennahdha government and says that the candidate it supports should share its values on the economy.

Although Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes ran an election based on anti-Islamist principles, recent comments by the acting prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, of forming a "broad coalition" indicate that an alliance could be formed with Ennahdha. It is likely that this would give the Islamist party key ministerial posts.

Sources say that Essebsi and the Front's Hammami were due to meet and discuss outstanding issues. Nidaa Tounes and the Front worked together in the National Salvation Front, which campaigned against the Ennahdha-led troika government last year.

Marzouki and Essebsi lock horns in the second round

Path to the palace 

The Social Democratic Path has already declared its support for Essebsi, which comes as no surprise given its place inside the Union for Tunisia secular alliance. It seems that the withdrawal of Nidaa Tounes from the union shortly before the legislative elections did not affect the stance of the party.

Kamel Morjane's Initiative Party has also declared its support for Essebsi in the runoff. According to sources, this is despite Samira Chaouachi, one of its leaders, resigning in a disagreement on potential alliances.

Although Essebsi boasts strong support from secular parties, Marzouki can expect the backing of Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the leader of the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, Ahmed Najib Chebbi of the Tunisian Republic Party, and most likely Mohammad al-Hamdi.

Ultimately, the party to decide who makes it to the presidential palace in Carthage is Ennahdha.

Ennahdha did not nominate a candidate for the election and did not direct its supporters how to vote in the first round. Its leaders have, however, hinted that this could change for the runoff.

A meeting of the party's Shura Council next week could reveal their position. The movement's leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, released a video a few days ago on his personal Facebook account, calling on members to maintain "complete neutrality" during voting.

But nobody knows what "complete neutrality" means, and the votes of Ennahdha supporters will ultimately decide which of the two candidates becomes the next president of Tunisia.   

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.