mercredi 16 novembre 2011

Hechmi Hamdi, the running joke of Tunisian politics

Hechmi Hamdi, the leader of
Aridha Chaabia.
It’s not the first time I bring up the subject but it’s difficult not to do it again with the most recent escapades that afflict one more time the Aridha Chaabia party.

Last Friday, nine elected officials (plus three other candidates) announced that they would resign to sit at the Constituent Assembly as independents. The latter indicated that they didn’t want to work anymore with their leader, Hechmi Hamdi, who didn’t share any decisional power and never even consulted them.

On the previous day, M. Hamdi announced that he would arrive in Tunis on Saturday November 12th and that he would stay for three weeks. Then, when confronted with the wave of resignations of his candidates, he chose to stay in London.

The most surprising aspect of this news isn’t exactly that he delayed his arrival, but that he was out of the country for the entire electoral campaign and that he doesn’t seem to have any desire to establish himself in Tunisia. Moreover, when questioned about his absence during the campaign, he offered no explanation except to say that “he preferred staying in London”.

The never ending saga

For those who haven’t followed this saga, here is a summary of the main facts.

-          October 27: Disclosure of the final election results. Aridha Chaabia, a party unknown to the media, wins 27 seats. On the other hand, nine candidates are disqualified for electoral fraud and affiliation with the former regime.

-          A few hours later, Hechmi Hamdi announces that his party, in protest, will not be present at the Constituent Assembly.

-          October 29: The party’s remaining 18 elected candidates state that they will disobey their leader and sit in the Constituent Assembly.

-          November 8: The country’s Administrative Court reverses the disqualification of eight of the nine candidates bringing the total number of seats for Aridha Chaabia to 26.

What is wrong with the party?

It’s difficult to blame anyone but Hechmi Hamdi for all the problems afflicting Aridha Chaabia. In addition to multiplying contradictory statements since the election, he seems to have a very unusual personality.

Following the election, he proclaimed himself President of Tunisia on his Facebook page. Moreover, he continually proclaims that 50% of the population voted for Aridha Chaabia and that the other parties should negotiate with him to form a coalition.

Let us recall that M. Hamdi owns a London based television station and that he appears on it on a regular basis. He used it extensively during the campaign to make promises considered unrealistic, populist and demagogic by his opponents (ex: free health care, free public transit for the elderly, an additional indemnity of 200 dinars per month for all the unemployed, etc.)

In search of an identity

Beyond the scandals and quirkiness of their leader, does the party have an identity problem? It’s a valid question since it’s practically impossible to determine any ideological leaning within Aridha Chaabia.

Is the party leaning to the left, to the right or is it somewhere in the middle politically? Hard to guess, maybe somewhat to the left when we consider the great number of promises.

Is Aridha Chaabia a Progressive or Islamic party? There again, your guess is as good as mine. M. Hamdi considers members of Ennahda as “his brothers” in spite of their refusal to collaborate with him and their never having contacted him.

Tunisia's interim President, Fouad Mebazaa.
It’s the same with Progressives. None of them want anything to do with him since M. Hamdi is suspected of having had links with Ben Ali.

Knowing all of this, the most recent decision of Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa not to invite him with the main the major parties to the preliminary discussions regarding the Constituent Assembly isn’t really surprising. M. Hamdi didn’t appreciate it and requested excuses from the President. He then made the same demands to the Tunisia Africa press agency, to political parties and to the main television network in the country, accusing them all of defamatory remarks towards him.

An uncertain future

If the party remains isolated and continues accumulating scandals, it would be surprising for them to survive much longer. Only three weeks after the election, a third of their elected candidates have left the party and it’s not impossible that more of them will do the same in the near future.

It remains to be seen if all of this will truly hinder M. Hamdi from now to the next election. If some consider him a joke (I’m one of them), others see in him the future saviour of Tunisia.

One thing is certain; no one had predicted the advent of Aridha Chaabia last October 23rd and few will dare bet against them in the future. If Tunisian politics has something in common with other democracies around the world, it’s that it can be unpredictable.

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