Ennahda seeks to uproot its rivals with sweeping political exclusion law
TUNIS - A law that excludes senior members of the former ruling party from political life would be a disproportionate restriction on political rights, many members of Tunisia’s opposition warned Ennahda Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi.
The law would ban members of the successive Ben Ali governments beginning in 1987 and members of the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique, RCD), who held specific positions from joining other political parties.
Such a law would set the stage for the near-total political exclusion of thousands of people based on their past political association, a large number of Tunisian politicians warned.
The measure, analysts say, is being seen by some as a tactic to hinder an opposition front to Ennahda and ensure the Islamists’ dominance in the upcoming election.
Ennahda looks divided over the measure.
"The law to protect the revolution must go through judicial mechanisms," the Islamist party's secretary-general Hamadi Jebali said.
Speaking earlier this month to Mosaique FM, Jebali pointed out that the exclusion of RCD politicians would be no different than what Ennahda and other opposition suffered under Ben Ali.
Yet those described as the "hawks" of Ennahda defend the law by saying that such a measure is commonplace in all countries undergoing a democratic transition.
"The conflict regarding this law is because a large number of former members of the dissolved RCD joined Ennahda," Ettakatol party member Habib Hamdi said.
Nidaa Tounes party leader Beji Caid Essebsi is among those opposed to the draft law. In his view, it targets him for exclusion from Tunisian politics.
"The law to protect the revolution, in the event it is ratified by the Constituent Assembly, is an affront to Tunisians and will be like a fissure in the history of Tunisia and in its image abroad," the former interim prime minister and newly declared presidential candidate said.
The Congress for the Republic, one of the governing coalition parties, submitted the bill in April 2012. On October 2, 2012, the Rights, Freedoms, and External Relations Commission of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) examined the draft law and made several recommendations.
The Assembly’s rules require the General Legislation Commission to approve the draft and then to submit it to the full Assembly, where passage requires an absolute majority, or 109 members out of 217 total.
The draft law would add a paragraph to article 7 of the 2011 law on political parties stating that people who held leading positions between November 7, 1987, and January 14, 2011, are prohibited for five years from the time the law takes effect from belonging to any current political party.
Those covered include members of the successive governments; the secretary general and deputy secretary general of the RCD; members of the party’s political bureau and central committee; the secretaries general of the party coordination committees and regional sections and the presidents of the party’s local sections.
The governing coalition parties have said their intention is to protect Tunisia’s nascent democracy from the old guard, who could rely on patronage and local prestige to win seats and use their influence to interfere in future elections.
But, the measures are too sweeping as they would effectively exclude thousands of citizens from all aspects of political life, depriving them of one of their fundamental rights and violating international standards.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Tunisia is required to allow citizens “to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives” without discrimination and without unreasonable restrictions.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, also ratified by Tunisia, requires states to ensure that every citizen has the right to participate freely in the governing of the country.