Ten months after a popular uprising ended the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has entered a new era of democracy, drafting its “mini constitution” and swearing in Moncef Marzouki as president. Moncef Marzouki, from the center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR) party, was elected by 153 out of 217 votes to the position of President of the Republic of Tunisia December 12.
Still, some doubt Marzouki’s legitimacy – claiming that he was not elected by the people but rather appointed by what is being dubbed the “Troika” – the recently formed coalition of Ennahdha, Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol. All three parties condemned members of the assembly who objected to Marzouki’s candidacy by casting blank ballots.
Issam Chebbi, a member of the Constituent Assembly who was elected from the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), said to Tunisia Live that the Troika is not honoring its promise to the Tunisian people and is just following the path of the previous regime. “Even the new cabinet will be formed to protect the hegemony of certain parties rather than the interests of Tunisia,” he said.
The daily paper Assabah reported that Samir Bettaib, a member of the Constituent Assembly who was elected from the Modernist Democratic Pole (PDM), expressed his discontent with the “mini-Constitution.” He claimed that it does not meet the opposition’s expectations as it supposedly lacks balance between the different branches of government.
“We wanted a strong president – not laws that overly favor the prime minister and give the position tremendous powers,” said Bettaib, who was one of several members of the assembly who were skeptical of how ‘temporary’ the interim government really is.
“We refuse to vote for a president without a limited mandate,” Bettaib added.
On the other hand, several others in the Constituent Assembly were unreservedly happy with their choice. Nour Eddine L’bhiri, a member of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, said that he is “as proud and happy as any other Tunisian for this democratic achievement.”
“I want to congratulate Marzouki. I see that Tunisia is on the right track now,” he went on to say.
Souad Abederahim, another member of Ennahda, expressed similar feelings. “I am happy with this achievement – however, I wished to see a woman run for this postion, even though she may not win,” she said.
Mohamed Abbou, a member of the president’s former party CPR, was also content.
“I see Marzouki as a good choice and I think he will be able to help achieve the goals of the Tunisian revolution… A lot of challenges lie ahead of him – but I am sure he will fulfill all promises he made,” said Abbou.
Despite the fact that no other member of the Constituent Assembly was able to get 15 endorsement signatures, as required by the “mini-constitution,” Marzouki’s election triggered diverse reactions among the Tunisian public – support, opposition and some plain skepticism.
One point that resonated with many Tunisians was the lack of any ‘real’ powers attributed to the president’s job description. One caricature that was widely circulated on Facebook suggested that Marzouki is only left with the prerogative of being the commander in chief, with only the right to declare war and peace.
Other Tunisians were happy that Tunisia has witnessed the day when a once human rights activist and a prominent Ben Ali foe is elected as the president – suggesting that he deserves to be rewarded for his long history as a militant.
Emna Ben Jemaa, a Tunisian journalist and blogger, said, “No one is questioning Marzouki’s militancy, but it is a matter of fact that he was not elected by the people and [his appointment] is the outcome of an agreement between Ennahda and other parties.”
Baheddine Hajri, a jurist and blogger, addressed the opposition and asks what alternative scenario could be expected.
“From what I know about politics, everything is decided either by elections or by coalitions. The opposition should either accept the results or they should have nominated a candidate and defended their choice,” said Hajri.
On the other hand, Ben Jemaa says that she understands the opposition’s refusal to vote for a president without a limited mandate.
“I think a time limit is important. It is crucial to have goals and a plan – we all know how planning goes when it is open-ended and without a deadline. Initially, this assembly was created to rewrite the constitution in one year,” said Jemaa.
After January 14th, many Tunisians have developed a skepticism about any poltical decision and a lack of trust in the government. Only the coming days will tell if Marzouki will be able to restore people’s trust in the government and live up to their expectations.
Article written in collaboration with Sana Ajmi