Category Archives: Tunisia


Tunisia – Text of latest constitutional draft

The latest draft of the proposed Tunisian constitution was made public at the end of last month. I have found it hard to find anything other than a copy in Arab. However, there is a version now available in French from here.

For the purposes of this blog, the key thing to note is that the draft is still semi-presidential. The president of the republic is to be elected by universal suffrage (Art. 73) for a term of five years. Interestingly, the president’s specific powers are not very strong (Art. 76). However, the draft does state that the president and the PM (president of the government) jointly determine foreign policy. There are powers to return a bill to the legislature and some powers over referendums but not unilateral powers.

The government is explicitly responsible to the legislature at the time of its formation (Art. 88). The government is also responsible to the Assembly thereafter (Art. 91). There is a constructive motion of no-confidence whereby the government can be dismissed but only on the nomination and approval of another PM (Art. 93).

It has been over 2 years since the jasmine revolution. The constitution drafting process has been very slow. This draft has already been criticised for various elements not related to the president/PM/legislature, but which may require further amendments. So, even if the process is, hopefully, coming towards an end, a popular vote on the text is not yet imminent.

New publication – Semi-presidentialism and Tunisia

Sujit Choudhry & Richard Stacey at The Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law and in conjunction with International IDEA have just published a really nice study of semi-presidentialism and Tunisia. It is available here.

The interest lies less in the Tunisian element. The paper is a study of the April draft of the proposed Tunisian constitution. As I understand it, there is now a new draft and there may well be another version soon. So, some elements of the study may have a short shelf life.

Instead, what is nice is the comparative aspect and, in particular, the details about presidential and other powers in semi-presidential countries more generally. In particular, there is a great comparative table at the end. The study looks 38 countries that are all unequivocally semi-presidential as defined by this blog. So, the paper generally and the comparisons in particular will be of great interest.

Tunisia – Compromise in favour of a semi-presidential form of government

In Tunisia, the debate about the form of government in the new constitutuon seems to have been resolved.

Up to now, the main party, Ennahdha, proposed a parliamentary regime. However, on Saturday, the three-party coalition in power (Ennahdha, Ettakatol, and the Congrès pour la République – CPR) issued a statement stating that presidential and legislative elections would be held on 23 June 2013. Jeune Afrique also quotes a statement in which they say that they have agreed on “a mixed political regime in which the president will be elected by universal suffrage in order to ensure a between equilibrium of powers within the executive”. Given virtually everyone else in the system wanted semi-presidentialism, it now seems sure that if the constitution is approved, then Tunisia will rejoin the ranks of semi-presidential countries.

However, now all the other issues that go along with constitutional choice come into play. So, for example, the Congress of ‘National Dialogue’ is currently meeting. This is like a ‘national conference’ on the constitution, though Ennahdha and the CPR have officially boycotted the Congress. Without specifying alternative dates, Jeune Afrique reports that key figures in the Congress have argued that the presidential election should be held before the parliamentary election. We know that the sequencing of elections is important. So, this is a major secondary issue. In addition, the Congress has asked the coalition to debate the distribution of power between the president and prime minister. Obviously, this issue is also crucial.

So, the choice of semi-presidentialism is just the first step. To the extent that these institutional choices make a difference to democratic outcomes, then a whole range of other important decisions remain to be made.

Tunisia – Draft Constitution

International IDEA has made available an English translation of the draft Tunisian Constitution.

The document shows how much of the constitution has already been agreed and how much is still under debate. One of the main issues still to be resolved is whether there will be a parliamentary or semi-presidential system.

The document is available here.

Tunisia – Update on the Constituent Assembly

Until the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, Tunisia was constitutionally semi-presidential, even if the democratic underpinnings of the regime were extremely poor. Following the uprising, the constitution was suspended. A Constituent Assembly was elected in October 2011. This Assembly is drafting a new constitution.

One of the big debates in the Assembly is whether to adopt a semi-presidential system. The Venice Commission has just posted its summary of the July debates in the Assembly. It is available in French here.

The summary says that the parliamentary nature of the regime is a given, meaning, I assume, that the prime minister and cabinet will be responsible to the legislature. However, it also reports that the issue of the direct election of the president has not been decided. The stated aim of the parties is to avoid a system where one party has all the power. For some, the direct election of the president is a guarantee that power will not be concentrated in one body. The idea is that the president will play the role of arbiter.

It is well known that the Ennahda Movement is opposed to semi-presidentialism. The proponents of a directly elected president are the opposition. Presumably, they believe that one of their number would be elected president and would be able to check an Ennahda Movement majority in a future parliament.

But this is a big gamble. If one party (or force) is strong enough to be majoritarian in parliament – presumably the Ennahda Movement – then wouldn’t the president most likely be from this movement too? If so, why would the president be an arbiter? Wouldn’t the president just support the government, like in Turkey, or maybe the president would become the main institution, like in France?

By itself, the Ennahda Movement cannot dictate the constitution. It has to compromise. It may prefer to see some of its preferred social issues written into the constitution and may be willing to give up on a directly elected president in return. However, in so doing, it may actually increase its chances of holding the presidency and reduce the likelihood of the president acting as an arbiter.

Tunisia – Constitution suspended, elections for a constituent assembly

The situation in Tunisia is becoming a little clearer. Here is a brief review.

Following the Jasmin Revolution and the ousting of President Ben Ali, the constitution was in effect suspended and a provisional organisation of power was established. The decree-law officialising this decision was issued on 23 March. So, Tunisia is no longer semi-presidential. The decree-law is available in French and Arabic here.

This decree law also made provision for the election of a constituent assembly that would draft a new Constitution. So, there is no prospect of the 1959 constitution (as subsequently amended) simply being restored.

The elections for the constituent assembly took place on Sunday. There are 217 seats to be filled. There is information about the voting system at Matthew Shugart’s Fruits and Votes blog.

Jeune Afrique is reporting the final result as follows:

Ennahda (Renaissance) – 89
CPR (Congress for the Republic) – 29
Aridha Chaabia (Popular Petition) – 26
Ettakatol (Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties) – 20
Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) – 16
Al Moubadara (Initiative) – 5
Democratic Modernist Pole (PDM) – 5
Afek Tounes (Tunisian Horizons) – 4
Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (PCOT) – 3
Achab (people’s Movement) – 2
Movement of Social Democrats (MDS) – 2
Others – 16 (1 each)

There are details about the various parties here. Basically, Ennahda is a moderate Islamist party. Most of the other parties are secular.

There are reports on the election at The Monkey Cage here and here.

There has been a lot of debate about what form of government Tunisia should adopt in its new constitution. Generally, Ennahda favours a parliamentary system, whereas some of the secular parties prefer some form of semi-presidentialism or presidentialism.

To me, this situation is puzzling. If there were to be a presidential election, then Ennahda would surely stand the best chance of winning, given the opposition is very divided. If so, it should favour a directly elected president. That said, even though Ennahda will clearly be the largest party in the constituent assembly, it will not have a majority and it will have to negotiate. This could mean, of course, that it might accept a directly elected president and a return to semi-presidentialism. Alternatively, with the strength of Ennahda being evident from Sunday’s election, it is possible that other parties will no longer push for this provision.

In all likelihood, the constitutional process will take a year. I will provide updates when information about the likely form of government becomes clear.

Tunisia – Confusion over election date

There is confusion in Tunisia over the date of the election of the constituent national assembly. The role of the assembly is to draw up a new constitution. So, the stakes are high.

The election was originally planned for 24 July. Indeed, the government, after a lot of debate, reaffirmed this date earlier this week and the interim president has, apparently, signed a decree to this effect. However, Jeune Afrique is now reporting that the Electoral Commission has announced that the election will be held on 16 October. The delay is due to the logistical problems associated with holding the election. The report also quotes a government minister as saying that the commission is merely consultative and that, therefore, the election will still be held on 24 July.

This confusion does not bode well for a smooth transition to democracy.

Tunisia – New PM, constituent assembly to be elected

The situation in Tunisia last month remains fluid. On 27 February, the long-standing prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, stepped down. He had been in post since 1999 and had remained in power even after the flight of President Ben Ali. However, he came under pressure following continuing popular unrest and has been replaced by Béji Caïd Essebsi. He is 84 years old and was first a minister in 1965!

In addition, Jeune Afrique is reporting that the interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, has announced the election of a constituent national assembly on 24 July. The assembly will draw up a new constitution. The interim president seemed to be careful to emphasise that the assembly would be sovereign and would decide for itself what form of government there would be. However, the assembly is being discussed in the context of creating a second republic. So, major changes may be ahead.

Tunisia – New government

Immediately following the flight of President Ben Ali from Tunisia last month, a new government was formed. The prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, remained in post.

A few days later a new government was formed. Prime Minister Ghannouchi remains as head of government, but there was a major reshuffle of ministers. The list of government members is available here.

Basically, the immediate post-Ben Ali government contained too many members of the former ruling RCD party. This meant that there were continuing protests. In response, the government was changed and, with the exception of the prime minister, new people were brought in to replace them. They were replaced by members of civil society and by technocrats.

Tunisia – Regime change

Events in Tunisia have moved very quickly.

Demonstrations started on 18 December. However, they were only felt in Tunis on 10 January. On 13 January President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali made a television announcement promising jobs and also, in effect, promising to step down in 2014. He came to office in November 1987. However, his appearance did not stop the unrest. Therefore, on 14 January he announced a state of emergency. At that point, it appears as if key members of the military and the political establishment lost confidence in him. As a result, he fled the country later that day. The rumours suggest that he was en route to Paris, but was told that he would not be able to land and so he went to Saudi Arabia.

In the evening of 14 January the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who is, incidentally, the longest-serving PM in any semi-presidential country having been in office since 1999!, assumed the presidency, stating that President Ben Ali was “temporarily unable” to assume his responsibilities. However, the next day, the Constitutional Court ruled that the presidency was vacant. Therefore, consistent with Art. 57 of the the 1957 Constitution as amended up to 2003, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Fouad Mebazaa, was appointed as interim president. So, Tunisia had three presidents in two days.

While there has undoubtedly been regime change, supporters of former president Ben Ali are fighting back. Jeune Afrique is reporting that there is ongoing violence. For example Ben Ali’s nephew, Imed Trabelsi, was killed on Saturday night, which has enraged the former president’s supporters and there do seem to be attempts to try to restore the previous regime. However, so far, the change has held.

Jeune Afrique is also reporting that there is talk of a constitutional amendment that would allow elections to take place within six months. As it stands, the constitution requires elections within 60 days. It appears as if this timetable is too optimistic.

Tunisia has been constitutionally semi-presidential since 1988.

There is ample coverage of current events in French at Tunisie Soir. There are also some very good posts at The Monkey Cage.