By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ruling party Nidaa Tounes on Saturday elected two leaders, one of them the president's son, in two parallel congresses, deepening the division that has hit the party in recent years.
The new crisis that hit Nidaa Tounes comes months ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections expected in October and November, which could complicate its competition against the rival Ennahda moderate Islamist party.
Although the slogan of the first electoral congresses of Nidaa Tounes which started last week was "unity", it ended by dividing into two congresses.
The first congress elected the lawmaker Sofian Toubel as head of the party's central committee. The second elected Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the son of the president Beji Caid Essebsi.
The divisions have shaken the party since 2015, as Essebsi’s son has been criticized for seeking to control the party, prompting many of its leaders to resign.
The prime minister Youssef Chahed also entered into a row with Hafedh Caid Essebsi and accused him of exporting the party's problems to the state.
"The congresses of Monastir (in which Essesbi’s son was elected) is illegal and an attempt to deflect legitimacy", said party official Ons Hattab.
Essesbi’s son denied the accusations and said he was surprised by the behaviour of some leaders who went to a parallel conference, adding that this could affect the party.
The parliamentary race is expected to be fought closely by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the more secular Tahya Tounes party of Prime Minister Chahed, and the Nidaa Tounes.
The parties rule the North African country together but their coalition has been hit by infighting that has hampered decision-making and slowed economic reforms demanded by foreign donors.
No prominent figure has so far declared their candidacy for the presidency this year.
Tunisia has won widespread praise for its democratic transition since 2011, but nine Cabinets have failed to resolve economic problems that include high inflation and unemployment.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; editing by Jonathan Oatis)