With 22 of 159 seats so far officially announced by ISIE (the Tunisian electoral commission), the centrist Congress for the Republic party (CPR in its French acronym) has reason to be pleased with the results of Sunday's election. Party leaders fielded questions from reporters in downtown Tunis today.
Foremost on everyone's minds was the party's attitude towards an alliance with Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that has so far taken the largest plurality of seats. Party president Moncef Marzouki wasted no time in addressing the issue.
We are willing to negotiate with the Islamist party and we do not want to engage in an ideology fight with them, said Marzouki.
Abderraouf Ayadi, a member of the party's political bureau, agreed with Marzouki's position, saying, We do not believe that we have to be Ennahda’s enemies to be accepted in the political scene.
While party officials claimed to remain open to offers from all factions, they seemed colder with respect to the idea of a center-left coalition, something that had been speculated before the elections. Party Treasurer Samir Ben Amor told reporters: We don’t plan on forming a modernist coalition within the constituent assembly. The word ˜modernist' is often understood to mean leftist and secular in Tunisian political discourse.
There would seem to be support on the other end of the proposed deal with Ennahda. Soumaya Ghannoushi, Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi's daughter, told Tunisia Live reporters yesterday, We will certainly be working close with the Congress for the Republic. While Ms. Ghannoushi has no official role within the party, she is somewhat of a privileged observer.
A coalition between Ennahda and the CPR seems imminent. However, Monzouki stressed that any such coalition would only last so long as he saw no threat to the civil liberties of Tunisian citizens posed by Ennahda's religious politics.
Human rights and women’s rights are a line not to be crossed, said Marzouki, adding, We would join an opposition government if those points became endangered.
The party also stated that they would continue to advocate for a semi-parliamentary system of government, as opposed to the parliamentary system proposed by Ennahda.
The conference was an opportunity for the CPR to reiterate its position on the duration and scope of the Constituent Assembly's legislative powers. Before the election, the CPR was one of the only major parties not to sign an agreement limiting the Assembly to one year, and has all along advocated for a maximum of authority for the assembly.
On the time issue, Marzouki stated, We don't think that a year is going to be enough. The drafting of the Constitution needs to be done slowly; we do not wish to rush the drafting process.
Party leaders also pronounced themselves for a strong government to be appointed by the assembly, arguing against a mere transitional body.
We are against a transitional government because it will delay all these urgent issues, said Ben Amor. This echoes what Ben Amor said in previous statements, when he judged that a provisional government could not make real reforms.
By rejecting the title of ˜transitional,' the party seemed to be expressing a desire that the government to be designated be granted plenary powers, a contrast to the proposal of Ettakatol, a center-left party who have so far placed third in number of seats assigned. Ettakatol has advocated a more utilitarian, placeholder government whose main task would be to maintain stability until the constitution is drafted.
The surprising success of the CPR has led many observers to scrutinize its political ideology with a finer lens. The party seems to have carved out a place in the center of the political spectrum by being neither for nor against Ennahda's brand of religious nationalism.
Speaking before the election, Nabeul 2 candidate Arbi Jlassi said, We are a center party that understands the Tunisians’ Muslim and Arabic
During the press conference, Ben Amor took a similar straddling-the-line approach, stating, Religion is a common denominator that unites all Tunisians, but we will not use it politically.
In an interview before the election, however, Ben Amor had spoken in no uncertain terms that he was in favor of filtering the internet against all content that could constitute an attack on good morals. If such policies were shared by other members of the party, this would place them well to the right of official pronouncements from Ennadha.
Reporting by Hend Hassasi.