Tunisia ruling party splits as 32 lawmakers quit over succession

Tunisia’s ruling Nidaa Tounes party is facing collapse after a group of lawmakers quit amid mounting tensions over who will succeed its leader, President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Thirty-two lawmakers loyal to Nidaa Tounes Secretary General Mohsen Marzouk took the decision after a meeting on Sunday, senior party member Bochra Belhaj Hmida said in a phone interview. In a statement last week, they accused Essebsi’s son Hafedh of attempting a hereditary transfer of power, a charge he denies, and threatened to resign if no way forward was found.

The dispute comes as Tunisia, often described as the Arab Spring’s sole success story, grapples with an economic crisis that worsened after two deadly militant attacks this year crippled its tourism industry. While Nidaa Tounes won the most seats in October elections and the right to form a government, its division now means the moderate Islamist Ennhadha party has the biggest representation in the 217-seat assembly.

Essebsi, 88, and Marzouk represent rival factions in Tunisian politics. The president is viewed by many as a member of the old guard, having served as foreign minister in the 1980s and as parliament speaker in the 1990s under ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, while Marzouk is a former leftist activist.

Mass demonstrations against the rule of long-standing Tunisian autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at the end of 2010 touched off the Arab Spring across North Africa and the Middle East the following year. Though Tunisia has escaped much of the violence that has since engulfed neighboring nations, there were two major terrorist attacks this year on a tourist resort in Sousse and the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

 –  Bloomberg [Jihen Laghmari and Salma EL Wardany]