The Interview

Tunisia’s Essebsi says ready to form pluralist govt

By: FRANCE 24 Follow | Marine CASALIS
3 min

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, secular Tunisian politician Beji Caid Essebsi, who received the most votes in the first round of the presidential poll, vowed to form a pluralist government while voicing disdain for the West’s obsession with the Islamist Ennahda party.


Speaking to FRANCE 24 just hours before preliminary results of Sunday’s presidential poll showed the secular politician was headed for a runoff against incumbent interim President Moncef Marzouki, Essebsi vowed to form a unity government.

“The Tunisian people who have given us their trust did not give us an absolute majority,” admitted Essebsi. “So we’re moving toward a pluralist government.”

Official preliminary results showed Essebsi, founder of the Nidaa Tounes party, had secured 39.46% of the vote while incumbent interim President Moncef Marzouki got 33.43% in Sunday’s historic poll.

While Essebsi did not secure the 50% necessary to avoid a runoff, his lead in the first round was another victory for his secular Nidaa Tounes party, which won the most seats in October’s parliamentary elections.

When asked about reports that Nidaa Tounes would give an Ennahda member the post of parliamentary speaker in exchange for the Islamist party’s support, Essebsi warned against focusing too much on Ennahda.

“I think the media are obsessed with Ennahda,” said Essebsi. “I’ve always maintained there is no incompatibility between Islam and democracy. The Europeans in general confuse Islam and Islamism. Islamism is a political movement that instrumentalises the religion to get to power, which has nothing to do with religion. Islam here in Tunisia is a religion of openness, of tolerance.”

But while the 88-year-old seasoned politician warned against focusing too much on the Islamist Ennahda party, he repeated claims made on the campaign trail that his rival, Marzouki, was a pawn of the Islamist Ennahda party and had the support of hardline Salafists.

When asked if he was playing on the fears of Tunisians by making such allegations, Essebsi replied with a categorical “No, not at all,” before noting, “It’s obvious that he [Marzouki] has never had more than 10% in the poll. Suddenly in these elections, he stands at 33%... I asked all those working in the field and everyone confirmed that if he arrived at this result, he was mainly supported by Ennahda’s leaders, even if the leaders have always said they will let the people decide for themselves.”

The ruling Islamist Ennahda party had declined to field or support a candidate in the presidential elections in interest of “national unity”, according to the party’s president, Rachid Ghannouchi.


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