Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali told Asharq Al-Awsat that, should he run in presidential elections set to be held by the end of the year, it will be as an independent candidate without the backing of his Ennahda party.
The former Ennahda party Secretary-General made his comments a day after Tunisia’s constituent assembly confirmed both presidential and legislative elections will be held by the end of the year. Tunisia’s elections chief told the press on Saturday that the poll would likely be held in November.
This round of elections, the second since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, will be held amid ongoing concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Ennahda party, of which Jebali is a member, and its ability to govern. The Ennahda government led by Rachid Ghannouchi, who took over from Jebali after his resignation in February 2013, was forced to resign in March this year following protracted negotiations between his ruling coalition, known as the troika, and civil society leaders.
Although the common account runs that Jebali was forced to resign over his inability to form his desired technocratic cabinet amid instability following the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaïd, the Tunisian statesman implicated his predecessor’s mismanagement in his inability to govern effectively in comments to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You recently announced your resignation as Secretary-General of the Ennahda Movement, and that if you stand in the presidential elections it will be as an independent candidate. Do you still hold firm to this decision?
Hamadi Jebali: In the statement that I issued after my resignation from the General Secretariat, I confirmed that this decision is final and irreversible.
Q: How do you respond to those who say that you only resigned your post as prime minister as a prelude to announcing your presidential candidacy?
My resignation has nothing to do with the elections, and I clarified that I took this decision for a number of personal and objective reasons.
Q: Does your resignation as the secretary-general of Ennahda represent your resignation from the Ennahda movement as a whole?
My resignation as secretary-general does not necessarily mean my withdrawal from the party as a whole. I am still a member of Ennahda, but if I do stand in the [presidential] elections—and I will decide whether to do so at a later stage—I will stand as an independent candidate.
Q: Don’t you think it would be better to run as an Ennahda candidate, given the guaranteed support base that comes with Ennahda backing?
My view is that it is vital for the next president to be a consensus candidate, for him to be an independent figure who has nothing to do with partisan politics. The presidency should be a shelter for all Tunisians, and this is difficult to achieve if the president represents a political party. Tunisia needs a president who will work for all Tunisians.
Q: Was this your plan from the beginning, or did you change your mind following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, particularly with Islamist former president Mohamed Mursi now in the dock?
During my attempts to form a technocratic government, I was certain that we were facing a period that requires a government that stays away from political division and which has a clear program to restore the constitution and move towards elections as soon as possible. We could have achieved this within a year, but unfortunately we were too late, not just for reasons relating to the troika government and its member parties, but also because of the opposition and the general situation in Tunisia.
I am convinced that in the next post-election phase we must work to achieve the idea of a technocratic coalition government where the president is above party political concerns. This is because the country will be facing difficult economic, social and security problems during the next phase. In light of this, it will be too difficult for any political party to unilaterally govern the country while also dealing with battles with the political opposition. This was my belief even before the events in Egypt, and I believe that Tunisia needs a five- to ten-year period of [political] harmony.
Q: You faced a number of obstacles during your premiership, and ultimately took the decision to resign. Don’t you have concerns about standing for the presidency?
There is something we must clarify: the opposition and some media figures always rush to say that Hamadi Jebali “failed.” The opposition has put forward this view as evidence that the troika failed and that Ennahda failed, but this view is based on bad intentions. I never announced that my government or the troika had failed. I said that it had failed in some things and succeeded in others. The best evidence of this is our political and constitutional situation today. As for our economic and social problems, I do not think that any government could have resolved them.
From the beginning, I spoke frankly to the Tunisian people and told them that I had taken office for a specific period, but that period was extended. The opposition, civil organizations and trade unions who organized strikes and protests must take their share of responsibility for this, and so must the remnants of the former regime and even the government of Beji Caid El-Sebsi [the first post-revolution prime minister, from February 2011–December 2011]. The same applies to the security situation. In any case, we want to ensure the endurance of the state, success of the constitution and achievement for Tunisia as a whole. If I do stand for the presidential elections, then my previous government experience will be an asset I can build on.
Q: You have mentioned the performance of the Sebsi government before—what is your opinion of it?
Although I do not want to make the issue personal, everybody now knows what the Sebsi government did just before the elections, particularly in terms of expanding the size and purview of the civil service, while the security situation was also very bad. I do not say that either Sebsi or I failed, but it was clear that my government inherited a very difficult situation. Let me confirm once again that Tunisia cannot bear any more confrontations, nor can it bear the traditional concept of government and opposition. Yes, there is an opposition but it needs to make concerted efforts to participate.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.