Tunisia's opposition parties consider 'consensus' candidate for presidency

Tunisia's opposition parties consider 'consensus' candidate for presidency
3 min read
13 November, 2014
Opposition groups debate a unified approach to the presidential election.
Nidaa Tounes may also win the presidency [Getty]

Tunisian political parties coming to terms with disappointing results in recent legislative elections are considering putting forward a consensus candidate in upcoming presidential election on 23 November.

Democratic Forum head Mustafa bin Jaafar on Wednesday called for a jointly agreed presidential candidate "to avoid the division of votes that occurred in the legislative elections".

While the presidency is being contested by 27 candidates, including several independents, Beiji Caid Essebsi is widely considered the man to beat.

Essebsi is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, a coalition of secularists and supporters of the pre-revolution regime who oppose the Islamist Ennahdha party. It is the largest party in parliament following the recent legislative poll.

Bin Jaafar, himself a presidential candidate, announced his willingness to stand down if a consensus on one common candidate was reached.

Imad Daimi, secretary-general of the Congress for the Republic Party, said talks were ongoing. "Contacts are underway between several parties to set up a democratic force that would bring together all the political forces who believe in the merits of the revolution," he said.

"We may be able to find common ground with the Democratic Forum, the Republican party and the Popular Front in the next few days to defend the gains of the last few years, and the constitution."

     Individual aspirations of political personalities and parties will prevent the success of this initiative.
- Issam Echebbi, Republican party

There are significant obstacles to the proposal, the most critical of which is the short timeframe before voters head to the polls, with campaigns already underway.

Khalil al-Zawiyah, a prominent leader of the Democratic Forum, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that he was "not convinced that the initiative by the head of his party would lead anywhere".

Issam Echebbi, a leading figure in the Republican party, agreed. "Individual aspirations of political personalities and parties will prevent the success of this initiative," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed. Echebbi added that he was committed to supporting his party's presidential candidate.

Parties may find it easier to agree on a single candidate to support in a possible second round of the presidential election, analysts say.

Electoral disappointment

The results of the parliamentary election came as a surprise to Bin Jafar and the Democratic Forum, he said: "The absence of the forces representing society as a whole and its interests after the elections will be a black spot over the next five years, in addition to the role of money in the elections."

Echebbi added: "The democratic and centre parties failed to offer an alternative to Nidaa Tounes and Ennahdha... All parties that were close to the opposition or the ruling troika suffered badly in the legislative elections, because of the extreme rhetoric that focused on support for and opposition to Ennahdha."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.