Ben Ali Opens First Party Congress Since Bourguiba Ousted
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) _ President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali opened a congress of the governing party Friday, the first since President-for-Life Habib Bourguiba was ousted nine months ago.
Ben Ali told 2,000 delegates representing the 1.5 million members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally they must adapt to a new democratic spirit.
″Only democracy can restore to the citizen his dignity, to the people their sovereignty and to the country its rightful place in the world,″ he said.
Changes undertaken since the bloodless Nov. 7 coup are irreversible and will lead to a society of ″rights, liberties and pluralism,″ the president said.
Ben Ali, 52, said at the time of the coup that Bourguiba was senile.
Bourguiba will be 85 next month and remains under house arrest in a villa at Mornag outside Tunis. He had ruled ruled this North African nation since its independence from France 31 years ago.
Ben Ali, a former interior minister, has promised to open the political system, which was monopolized by Bourguiba’s Destourian Socialist Party. The party’s name was changed earlier this year to the Constitutional Democratic Rally.
He told the congress: ″The life of the party, its rules and its programs have repercussions on all public affairs and all aspects of life in our country.″
Representatives of the three legal opposition parties were invited to the opening session of the congress, which ends Sunday.
Opposition leaders have said they will be watching to see if steps are taken to separate the power of the party from that of the state.
As in the past, the chief of state also is the president of the governing party and the prime minister is the secretary-general.
Opposition leaders noted that Ben Ali appointed 125 of the 200 members of the party Central Committee, with the others elected by party members.
Officials of Ben Ali’s party said up to 80 percent of the delegates are new and this is the first congress they have attended.