Tunisia’s new President Essebsi vows he will turn page on past

Tunisia’s new President, 88-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, says he wants to “…turn the page on the past and look to the future”.

Elected with almost 56 percent of the votes on December 21st, ahead of rival candidate Moncef Marzouki, Essebsi can claim to be the first freely elected president in his country’s history.

“I want to speak to my people whether in the south or the north. We are all the children of Tunisia. I am very sorry about the events that have taken place in some parts of the south. I believe there is no need for that, and that they were brought about through manipulation by suspicious hands.”

Just after election results were announced, protesters set fire to offices of Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party in Tataouine in southern Tunisia, and there were reports of rioting in several other southern towns where most of the votes went to Marzouki.

Essebsi dismisses critics who say his victory marks a return of the old guard, distancing himself from the abuses of the Ben Ali era when he was parliamentary speaker.

Before that, he was interior, defence and foreign minister under President Habib Bourguiba.

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprising, Essebsi became transitional prime minister in February 2011.

The Islamist Ennahda party came out ahead in Tunisia’s first free election, for a constituent assembly, that October.

But Ennahda’s weakness governing ushered in a team of technocrats, and Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party won the most seats in October 2014 parliamentary elections.

Nidaa Tounes grouped together businessmen, intellectuals, union leaders and leftist militants, and also those once close to the old regime — united by their opposition to the Islamists.

Essebsi’s party will now have to decide on a prime minister and form a new government in coalition with smaller parties in parliament.

Ennahda, still strong, is expected to prove resilient in negotiations with him and Nidaa Tunes over policy in a modern Tunisia.

On whether Tunisia will see a new form of power-sharing or the birth of a modern democratic opposition, Faiza Garah spoke with Adel Ltifi, an analyst and professor of contemporary history of the Arab World at the Sorbonne University in Paris, to discuss the results of Tunisia’s presidential election which some see as marking an end to the transition to democracy in Tunisia.

Faiza Garah, euronews: “President Beji Caid Essebsi has said several times that his party Nidaa Tounes will not govern alone. How do you see the next government? Will Ennahda be a part of it?”

Prof. Adel Ltifi, analyst: “I believe the Nidaa Tounes party is in a difficult position because of the make-up of the parliament. Nidaa Tounes doesn’t have an absolute majority. So, it’s obliged to form a coalition with other parties. Its second problem is the country’s general predicament. The problems are essentially economic and political, with security added onto that. All in all, this puts Nidaa Tounes in a delicate position. The question today is how far it can open up to the other parties. Some of them are categorically opposed to making a coalition with the Ennahda party and do not want it to share power. Even within the Nidaa Tounes party to some members it’s unthinkable to found a democratic government without a party or coalition having a strong opposition, and these people see Ennahda’s place in the opposition.”

euronews: “In your opinion, does Essebsi represent a continuation of the Ben Ali regime or does he represent change?”

Ltifi: “No one who takes power can return to the old regime’s tyrannical ways. There are Tunisians who were part of the old regime. They are even found within the democratic assembly party. But there is an agreement that was signed during the transition period which says that the problem of these people is a legal problem and that they cannot be prevented from taking part in the country’s political life. This means that even if groupings of the old regime form within Nidaa Tounes that doesn’t mean a return to the old regime.”

euronews: “How will the president deal with the economic and social challenges?”

Ltifi: “I believe that as soon as a stable government is formed that gains the trust of the state and international forces and friendly countries, I’m convinced that some of its debts will be cancelled or transformed into investments.”

euronews: “And how to deal with the security challenges?”

Ltifi: “That depends on certain essentials, such as taking a firm political decision against terrorist factions and against any ideas of inciting violence. The situation in Libya is very difficult. I believe that Tunisia and Algeria are obliged to play an essential role from the outset to restore stability in Libya so that a government there responds to the aspirations of the Libyan people.”