Tunisia takes the dialogue route

Tunisian leaders yesterday agreed on a road map aimed at resolving the country's political crisis. The plan, which requires the Islamist-led government to hand over power to a technocratic caretaker administration, has been widely hailed as a preferable alternative to the military takeover in Egypt that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rami Khouri writes:

"The most significant single aspect of events in Tunisia is the capacity of all major political actors, including the Islamist Ennahda Party that leads the ruling coalition, to dialogue, negotiate and compromise when necessary in order to maintain the transition towards a pluralistic democracy that allows all ideological groups to compete for power ... This agreement was spurred by the combined pressure and mediation of the leading trade union, the UGTT.

"The dialogue participants will comprise all the parties represented in the National Constituent Assembly, which is responsible for drafting the new constitution and leading the way to parliamentary elections. 

"The dialogue roadmap was drafted by the UGTT, the employers' organisation UTICA, the Tunisian League for Human Rights, and the Tunisian bar association – which affirms the critical role that independent civil society groups can play in such historic transitions."

The key points of yesterday's agreement are summarised by AFP:

  • Talks begin in earnest this week to choose an independent prime minister.

  • Negotiators must form a non-partisan government within two weeks, after which the Ennahda-led coalition will step down.

  • A commission of experts will finalise the draft of a new constitution.

  • Over the next four weeks of consultations and negotiations, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), which was elected two years ago, must adopt the new constitution by a two-thirds majority.

  • Within 15 days the negotiators and NCA members must form an independent body to organise new legislative and presidential elections. This includes adoption of a new electoral law and setting the dates for the polls.

This is a promising start, though there is still a lot that could go wrong. Tunisia Live reports that President Moncef Marzouki attended yesterday's ceremony and spoke in support of the roadmap, but his centre-left secular CPR party has so far not signed the agreement – apparently on a technicality. Several smaller parties have reportedly not signed either but according to Belgacem Ayari of the UGTT the first dialogue session will begin at 10.00 am on Monday regardless of whether they sign or not.

Meanwhile, Chedly Ayari, governor of the Central Bank, complains that political wrangling is damaging Tunisia's economy. In a recent interview he said:

"The focus on development isn't there. All the thinking is in politics, and the economy is put to the side. There is a sense that the economy isn't a priority ...

"I will tell politicians this: You are spending more than your resources allow. The cake you want to divide amongst yourselves won’t be there. What will you give out? Poverty? If democracy means spreading poverty then that's it, there is no hope."

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Sunday, 6 October 2013