89 year old Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi has opted not to pursue re-election in 2019, according to reports.
Essebsi cited political disunity for his decision, and reportedly plans to pursue a new political project in conjunction with Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, founder of the Democratic Progressive Party al-Joumhouri.
Despite persistent rumors about Essebsi’s health, sources close to the president have repeatedly assured the public that “he is healthy and operates normally.”
Essebsi has been involved in politics for over half a century, and was a key adviser to former President Habib Bourghiba and President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Essebsi’s reported decision comes amid mounting tension within Tunisia’s ruling party, Nadaa Tounes, where rival factions convened over the weekend to discuss the party’s future.
Central to the dispute is President Essebsi’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who currently holds power as Executive Director of the party, and has drawn criticism from fellow party members over his relative lack of experience and exclusionary tactics.
Fellow party member Ridha Belhaj, who launched the “Reform and Rescue Committee,” within the party has called to advocate the younger Essebsi’s post and conduct fresh elections in March.
“The country no longer has vision,” Belaj said to Shems FM earlier this week, “…and (this is) precisely because of Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is the principal cause of the current crisis.
Nidaa Tounes emerged in 2012 as Tunisia’s principal alternative to the Islamist Ennahdha party, but has been embroiled in conflict involving competing interpretations of the party’s secular identity, and a series of leadership feuds that have caused the departure of many prominent members.
In 2013, Mohsen Marzouk, formerly a key adviser to President Essebsi and leader in Nidaa Tounes, left the party following a similar dispute with Hafedh Essebsi, going on to found the Mashrou’ Tounes movement, with the described aim of promoting a national modernist project.