Ridha Belhaj has resigned as the director of the political committee of President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party. Belhaj published a letter of resignation stating that the deputies of the party’s ARP bloc ‘threatened the political balance’, attempted to overrule party leadership and did not follow the official positions of the party.
Belhaj had occupied the post for only three months after leaving his previous position as director of the Office of the President of the Republic in early February, to ‘save’ the party after Nidaa Tounes split over the role of Essebsi’s son Hafedh Caid Essebsi in the party.
Less than a week ago, Nidaa Tounes ARP deputy, Fadhel Ben Omrane, resigned as chairman (whip) of the Nidaa Tounes parliamentary bloc citing health reasons and stating “I had no control over the deputies.” Ben Omrane cited as inability to reign in absentee deputies and the deputies inability to fulfill their election promises.
Ben Omrane then resigned from the ARP’s finance committee just as debates over a major banking bill (which passed today) were beginning. The banking bill is the second of two financial reforms (a Central Bank law was barely approved last month) on which a 2.8 billion USD IMF bailout loan is contingent upon.
The resignations in the executive and parliamentary leadership of Nidaa Tounes, less than a week apart, are just the latest signs of strain in a year which has seen the party lose its status as the largest parliamentary bloc after a split in January after its former secretary general Mohsen Marzouk and over two dozen deputies formally split from the party and the Al-Horra bloc.
Beyond Nidaa Tounes the coalition government, outside of Ennahda, is showing signs of trouble.
The head of Afek Tounes, Yassine Ibrahim, has advocated recently for the formation of a new secular parliamentary bloc within the ARP which would exclude Ennahda.
While the UPL led by Slim Riahi has threatened to withdraw from the coalition government after several disaffected UPL deputies resigned from his party and joined Nidaa Tounes.
The adherence of three UPL deputies has been one of the few developments since a disastrous party congress held in Sousse last January was overshadowed by the Marzouk split and Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, who invited to speak at the Sousse Congress called Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda ‘two wings of the same bird’ a reference to the secular-Islamist coalition which rankled some within Nidaa Tounes.
On Wednesday, Rached Ghannouchi returned the favor inviting President Beji Caid Essebsi to speak at Ennahda’s upcoming party congress, by then Nidaa Tounes may be a mere feather on Ennahda’s wing.