Nejib Chebbi, founder of Tunisia’s Progressive Democratic Party, which was created in 2001 and became the Republican Party after the revolution, wants to become Tunisia’s next president.  His party, he insists, is the only one not obsessed with power.

Nejib Chebbi, is the forthcoming presidential election your last opportunity to crown your political career?

Nejib Chebbi, founder of Tunisia’s Progressive Democratic Party, which was created in 2001 and became the Republican Party after the revolution, wants to become Tunisia’s next president.  His party, he insists, is the only one not obsessed with power.

Nejib Chebbi, is the forthcoming presidential election your last opportunity to crown your political career?

Frankly speaking, I really hope this happens because 50 years of attending to the country’s concerns and of political service are enough. Humans do want to rest.  If I nominate myself, I will fight the battle to the end—this will be my last battle then I am going to rest and let my political rivals rest as well.

Why did you travel to the United States? Did you meet with leaders of the U.S. administration?

This was not my first visit to the US.  It is a visit similar to all my previous ones. This time I went there because I was invited to a seminar on the transitional experiences in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia. It was an event organized by one of the foundations that also asked me to prepare and deliver an intervention. I was not the only one invited from Tunisia.  Former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh was also invited. 

On the occasion of this seminar, a meeting was arranged with an official at the state department who is responsible for the Middle East and North Africa.  The most important message which I had conveyed was that the social situation in Tunisia is fragile and cannot stand more pressure by global financial bodies. 

I also met with the official in charge of human rights at the White House and we discussed the situation in the Arab world in general.  Moreover, I met with a number of Senate aides and visited many study centers, which are considered the policy-making kitchens of the USA. 

How would you assess the performance of the current government in Tunisia? To what extent is it applying the provisions of the road map?

I admire the success of Mehdi Jumaa’s government in calming down the tensed political environment and for upholding social peace in the country. These are very important elements in addition to other legal mechanisms such as the constitution and the election law. 

However, the current government should first and foremost ensure the neutrality of the administration and second, it should control violence in political life. Although the security situation in the country has improved, it is still a source of concern. 

The current government should put more effort into ensuring that the country safely reaches elections without the threats of the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), which are still posing a threat to the country despite the decision taken to dissolve them.

In addition, Mehdi Jumaa’s government should not do harm to the purchasing power of the Tunisian people. It is not required to implement any structural changes, but it should make us safely reach the elections.

How do you assess the foreign policy of Mehdi Jumaa’s government, especially his recent visit to Berlin?

These are mere public relations. Tunisia is seen as a successful case and it is also regarded with sympathy. From the beginning, our revolution was called the “Jasmine Revolution” because it was a peaceful one. 

Despite the security problems in some cases, we were able to make important strides in political appeasement, which created a beautiful image of Tunisia abroad unlike the rest of the countries that have witnessed revolutions.

I think that the ruling period of Mehdi Jumaa’s government is very limited and its primary role is to manage the affair of the country until we peacefully reach elections.  Thus, I don’t believe that there were important or major agreements reached with the countries he visited, in terms of investment or economic cooperation.  We ourselves do not expect this from him nor do we demand it. 

How would you assess the performance of President Moncef Marzouki?

Marzouki has chosen to be the president of the Republic with very limited powers and thus he hasn’t been able to play an important role in the national life. Other than that, every person makes mistakes, succeeds sometimes and fails in other times.

Do you have the same fears as others that Marzouki may take advantage of his position to launch an early election campaign?

Politics is based on assuming bad intensions. If good intensions were present there wouldn’t have been a need for laws and for the separation of powers. Human beings instinctively abuse power and it is for this reason that in democratic states, such as the US, balance and mutual supervision are adopted. 

 There is no law which obliges Marzouki to resign before the elections, but there are rules which compel him not to take advantage of his position and there are state mechanisms for his election campaign. Supervision is the task of civil society and the media. 

What are the expected alliances of the Republican Party?

I launched an initiative which aims at reuniting moderate forces.

If we assume that the two spectrums of the political life, the Ennahda Movement and Nidaa Tounes, really have 30% of the votes, and this is just an assumption, this means that we are heading towards a legislative council with two poles and none of them can get more than 60-65 seats. 

In between the two, there will be a number of small and medium size parties who will occupy 80 seats.  This means that there will not be a dominant party and no party will be able to rule all by itself.  Thus, the two big parties will find themselves obliged to rule together. 

This necessarily implies that they will be at the same level of strength.  If this happens, we can’t tell who will win the presidency and this will certainly have an important role in the balance.  Given that there are no guarantees of harmony between the two, they may perhaps be in a constant conflict over power. 

One of the main reasons why I launched this initiative is not let the Tunisians choose between the failed system of the Troika remnants and the old regime as represented by Nidaa Tounes. 

Is it easy to achieve all this on the ground and to unite moderate and progressive forces?

It is an illusion to think that these centrist forces are capable of competing in the forthcoming legislative elections in united lists or with one single presidential candidate. 

Political divides, personal conflicts, and narrow partisan interests, in addition to the very little time which separates us from the elections, are all factors that prevent such a thing to happen. 

However, it is possible to form an election bloc which does not give the possibility of transformation into a political electoral force based on the principles of participatory democracy, which accepts all. 

Thus, I sincerely call on all these forces, without any exception, to immediately start serious discussions to form a joint commission to prepare for the holding of the “social and democratic centrists conference, which will change political facts and will certainly impact elections.

Why don’t you initiate an alliance?

First, this is not possible, because the electoral law in Tunisia does not encourage alliances. Each bloc or party has a presidential candidate and alliances lessen their chances. It is for this reason that I launched this initiative in order to allow these forces to present themselves to voters as a united political body after elections. 

Are there any intentions for an alliance with the Ennahda Movement? 

There are no such intentions now.  I keep the same distance between the Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes.

Nidaa Tounes, your former ally, decided to compete alone in the forthcoming elections . How did you react to this decision? Did Nidaa Tounes depart from the democratic family?

I have said it more than once- Nidaa Tounes never had the intensions at any stage to enter into any electoral alliance. I was aware of this since the beginning, and this is why we resigned from the Union for Tunisia. However, this is not the only reason.

The second reason is the many disagreements between us which have manifested themselves in many stances such as the crisis of Hamadi Jebali’s government, in the guesthouse dialogue, the June Constitution and finally in the national dialogue on the suggested personality to head the government.  In fact, there were no common political grounds between us to facilitate a political alliance with Nidaa Tounes. 

Regarding their latest decision, and in order to be honest, the head of the movement Beji Caid Essebsi reluctantly accepted the formation of the Union for Tunisia and the idea of an electoral alliance after the pressure exerted by al-Masar and the Republican parties (center left) who thought that they could make him commit to an electoral front and thus he accepted in the beginning.

Why did the progressive family fail again in uniting its ranks? 

Because this family is composed of parties with principles and different constants. Perhaps the reason for the failure is that they all want leadership. This is undeniable. Every party leader does not accept other leaders and in my opinion the Republican Party is different because it believes in collective democracy.

It has proven this throughout its historical struggle allowing Islamists, unionists and communists to join in.  We and the al-Masar for example have many common social stances but we disagree on a major principle.  We adhere by the Arab-Islamic identity of Tunisia, but al-Masar has a different vision.

Where do you stand with regard to Ennahda Movement’s decision to nominate a consensual candidate for the presidential elections?

This decision surprised me, especially as we are living in a democracy based on competition to reach the fittest and the best.  Perhaps the Ennahda Movement does not want to nominate a candidate, and this is its right and perhaps it is searching for a person with special traits, and this too is its right. However, the weakening of the president’s position and neutralizing his political role is not what the current phase requires.

We are in phase which requires a strong president who should first of all be highly politicized and who should have leadership traits. He should work on uniting the Tunisian people and he should be the guarantor of the Constitution and freedoms in the coming phase.  He should also be the guarantor of the principle of separation of powers.