As political parties in Tunisia rush to lure prospective voters for next month’s elections, Harakat al-Baath (The Baath Movement) believes it has a strong standing.
According to the party’s General Secretariat and one of the main founders, Othman Belhaj Omar, his party is considered in the top eight political parties out of the 111 groups that has emerged since the revolution that ousted former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from his 23-year rule.
When asked how many candidates Omar was fielding for the country’s upcoming October 23 constituent assembly elections, he “we have one in every of the 27 electoral constituents,” adding with a hint of sarcasm, “all Tunisians are pro-Baath but not necessarily members [of the party].”
Since Ben Ali’s ouster, Tunisians have been enjoying a new sense of political freedom that has resulted in the mushrooming of more than a 100 political parties. The Baath party was previously outlawed under Ben Ali’s rule, in June this year chose Omar as the party’s Secretary-General.
The party has deep roots in the country’s political scene and is considered one of the oldest political parties. The first constituent meeting was held in 1955, and its members played a decisive role in the independence struggle against French rule in 1956.
The Baath party’s foundations are rooted in Arabism, socialism and freedom from foreign powers.
It is difficult to assuage the Baath party’s popularity as it seems to overplay its significance while potential voters don’t see it as much of a contender.
From the leftist spectrum, it is the Labor Communist Party that is more popular in a country whose unemployment rate is as high as 18 percent. It also the only leftist party that has the potential to rival Al Nahda whose agenda is to arrest and bring down the high unemployment figure to 8.5 percent by 2016.
The popular Islamic party, Al Nahda, led by the long-exiled Rached Ghannouchi who returned to Tunisia after Ben Ali’s ouster, is widely expected to win next month’s elections. It is seen as a well organized political party with a clear manifesto.
While the Baath party was outlawed in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the Baath party in Tunisia was one of the first to register itself as a party post-revolution.
Syria, the only Arab country with a ruling Baathist regime, and the cradle from where the Baath party was sprung, faces great turmoil.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the death toll from the Syrian regime’s bloody crackdown on protesters since mid-March rose to more than 2,700 people.
“There is no Baath [party] in Syria,” said Omar, adding that “the Syrian regime has turned against the Baath and is no longer Baathist one.”
As for Iraq, he said that Iraqis are not victims of Hussein’s Baathist policies, but are suffering the combination of U.S., Iran, Israel conspiracies against their country.
“The problems that have accumulated over the past decades in Tunisia are in need of a Baath party solution,” he said. “Tunisia has become far more linked to the West than their Arab counterparts, to Paris more than Cairo, to London than Baghdad.
“We need to cement our Arab identity,” he said.