2014 new Constitution and interim government
Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly approved a new Constitution for the country on January 25 2014, three years after dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted by a popular uprising. It was praised as one of the Arab World’s most progressive charters, by recognising Islam as state religion, but also protecting freedom of belief and gender parity in politics and society. It also ensures political pluralism by affirming the opposition’s rights. A new government was announced at the same time, following ruling Islamist party Ennahda’s stepping down at the end of 2013. Ennahda lost its credibility and support from a large part of the population following the assassination of political leader Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013 and the political deadlock that resulted from it. A political compromise was eventually reached between the country’s ruling and opposition parties to form a non-political technocrat cabinet led by Mehdi Jomaa until the parliamentary and presidential elections in October and November 2014. It includes experts with international experience at the Finance and Foreign Affairs Ministries.
Political system after the 2014 Constitution
Although Tunisia´s new Constitution reaffirms the pre-existing Republican system, in which the executive power is held by the President for five years with the help of the Prime Minister, it modified the legislative power. Until January 2014, the Parliament was bicameral, composed of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Advisors. Today, it is composed of a sole Chamber, the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. The leader of the majority party or coalition after elections is designated by the President as prime minister. One of the great improvements in the 2014 Constitution is the creation of a Constitutional Court, which restricts the legislative power and prevents laws that would go against rights and freedoms from being ratified. Tunisia is administratively divided in 24 governorates, headed by governors who are appointed by the President. The country enjoys competitive elections thanks to lively partisan life which is constitutionally guaranteed by article 35.
The 2014 Tunisian Constitution is, in the Arab and Muslim world, the basic law that offers the most guarantees for women's rights. Its article 46 guarantees “equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility and in all fields. The state seeks to achieve equal representation for women and men in elected councils” It guarantees “women´s representation in elected bodies” as well as “women´s accrued rights” and right to work. It represents a great improvement since the last gender equity bill that had been passed on 11 April 2011. It declared that men and women should feature in equal numbers as candidates on the electoral list. Close to 4,000 women ran for the first time for one of the 217 seats in the Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011. In spite of the list and the recent gender equity law, women’s actual representation in the the NCA does not reflect their proportion of the national population. Fifty-seven seats were allocated to women in the NCA which equals 26.3%. Women headed only 7% of more than 1,500 candidate lists and only one woman was given the chance to lead a political party (Maya Jribi-PDP Party). The election resulted in a majority vote for the Ennahda party that has pledged to uphold women’s rights. Despite the role women played during the protests, the transitional government only has two female ministers.
The current political situation in Tunisia is the result of the popular unrest that erupted in the first half of 2011 after a young man set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid on 17 December 2010. The frustration of the man concerning the high unemployment rate, living conditions, the economic situation and annoyance with the ruling elite was shared by many Tunisians. Demonstrations occurred around the country for weeks and resulted in the ouster of President Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. Fouad Mebezaa, the speaker of the Tunisian parliament, was sworn in as the country's interim president on January 15th. On the 17th of January a new government was formed by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. A day later three ministers stepped down denouncing the new administration as a betrayal, since the government included several ministers from the former ruling party, the RCD. It is said that over 338 people were killed during the Tunisian uprising.
National Constituent Assembly elections 2011
On 23 October 2011 Tunisia held free elections for the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) for the first time in history. The task of the 217-seat NCA is to write a new constitution for the country and to form an interim government. International observers noted that the elections were free and fair, although some minor problems have arisen, especially in relation to the unexpectedly high voter turnout. This led to long lines outside polling stations and the late publication of results.
Over 80 parties participated in the elections, with many more independent candidates. The two most important issues in the campaign were the questions of the place of religion within the new constitution and how to deal with the remaining old RCD regime representatives. The moderate Islamist Ennahda movement was the biggest winner. The social democratic Ettakatol party became the biggest left wing party. It ran in a coalition of modernist parties, called the Democratic Modernist Pole (PDM). By stepping in a government coalition with Ennahda, Ettakatol leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar managed to secure the important seat of President of the Constituent Assembly, tasked with writing the constitution.
PDM, was formed in May 2011 by the fusion of four political parties: of which the Ettakatol is the biggest, the Leftist Socialist Party (le Parti Socialiste de Gauche), the Republican Party (le Parti Républicain), and the Centrist Way (la Voie du Centre) and five citizen initiatives. PDM was the only coalition in the elections to present an election list of which half was headed by female candidates. It proposed the separation of religion and politics and has voiced support for the abolition of the death penalty. PDM has won 5 of the 217 seats and 4.91% of the votes in the elections.
The rest of the secular parties did not do as well as expected in the elections. Some of the reasons for this are disorganisation and fragmentation within the political spectre.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the "millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country." He also reaffirmed the United States' "commitment to the Tunisian people as they move toward a democratic future." EU leaders also praised the first free elections in Tunisia and added that the EU “will bring support to the new authorities in their efforts of democratisation and sustainable economic development." UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the elections “a key step” in the country’s transformation to a democracy.
Official election results
Popular Petition/ Aridha Chaabia
PDP/Progressive Democratic Party
Al Moubadara/ The initiative
1.290.293 votes were cast for parties or lists that did not receive enough votes to gain seats in their given district. In total, the constituent assembly will be composed of 217 seats, approximately one representative per 60.000 Tunisians. Turnout among registered voters was around 70%, but unregistered voters were also allowed to vote. Total turnout is estimated to have been around 85%. With over 10% of Tunisians living abroad, 18 seats were reserved for the Tunisian diaspora. Senior party members of the disbanded former ruling party RCD, were banned from standing in the election if they were in politics within the last ten years.
Political landscape after elections
On 21 November 2011 a coalition of Ennahda, CPR and FDTL/Ettakotal was formed holding a majority of 138 seats in the assembly. They agreed to share the three highest posts in the Assembly. Therefore Ettakotal/FDTL leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar was elected President of the Assembly and Meherzia Labidi (Ennahda) and Larbi Abid (CPR) were elected vice presidents. The Assembly will also perform normal parliamentary functions in this year, such as government oversight and the drafting of new legislation.
Previous political landscape
Before the popular uprising and Tunisia’s legislative elections of 2011, the country underwent a long period of authoritarian rule. The bicameral legislative authority was controlled by former President Ben Ali’s political party the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Although the role of political parties used to be defined by the Constitution as "political parties help to educate citizens so as to organise their participation in political life, only 20% of the Chamber of Deputies was granted to opposition parties. Tailor-made laws prevented the candidates from some of the stronger opposition parties from running and severe constraints on freedoms of expression, the press, and assembly deprived challengers from making their case to the public. It was therefore inevitable that Ben Ali and his party the RCD won both elections with a majority of the votes.
Forum Démocratique pour le Travail et les Libertés (FDTL) / Ettakatol
(Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties)
Leader: Dr Mustapha Ben Jaafar
Full member in the Socialist International
Established in 1994, just a month before the country’s legislative elections, the FDTL is a centre-left secularist party. Its establishment was the result of a call by 200 democrats, academics and defenders of human rights who in 1993 called for the unification of democratic forces. The party that was established by its current Secretary-General Mustapha Ben Jafar was only legalised in 2002. However, it failed to obtain government positions or seats in the parliament in the 2004 elections.
In the Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011 FDTL won 20 seats and took part in the coalition that consists of Ennahda and the CPR. Its stated core values are transparency and openness. Its leader Ben Jafar was elected President of the Constituent Assembly in November 2011.
Congrès Pour la République (CPR) (Rally for the Republic Party)
Chairman: Dr. Moncef Marzouki
The CPR is a centre-left secular political party which was established by Moncef Marzouki in 2001. As the party was banned in 2002, Marzouki moved to France and ran the party from there. The CPR’s main objectives include transparent and free elections, independence of state institutions and the judiciary, to guarantee public liberties and defend human rights and to affirm the Arab Muslim identity within the framework of respect for universal humanitarian values as they are stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The party has been labelled Islamist, but rejects the label and after the elections in October 2011 is seen as a counterweight to the moderate Islamist party which became the country's dominant political force in the elections.
The CPR won 29 seats in the 2011 NCA elections, becoming second after the Ennahda.
Party leader Marzouki was elected interim President of Tunisa by the Constituent Assembly and the CPR formed a coalition with Ennahda and the social-democratic Ettakatol/FDTL. Together they hold 138 seats in the Asssembly.
Social Democratic Path (a.k.a. Al-Massar)
Leader: Ahmed Ibrahim
The Social Democratic Path was created on April 1st 2012 as a result of the merger of the Ettajdid movement, the Tunisian Labour Party and the Democratic Modernist Pole. The former leader of Ettajdid movement is its current leader. It holds 7 seats in the current NCA. Ettajdid, or “Movement of Renewal” was formed in 1993, replacing the Tunisian Communist Party (PCT) which had abandoned communism and defined itself as centre-left.
After the fall of Ben Ali the leader of the Ettajdid, Ahmed Ibrahim, had gained the post of Minister of Higher Education by the then Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi until 7 March 2011. The Party sees a strict division between state and religion as a fundamental basis for the new constitution and rejects cooperation with Islamist parties.
Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes (Movement of Social Democrats)
Secretary-general: Ismail Boulahya
The party was founded in 1978 by Ahmed Mestiri and associates, liberal dissidents from the then ruling Parti Socialiste Destourian (PSD), the predecessor of the RCD. He was replaced by Mohamed Mouadda. After some internal strive over the leadership of the party Ismail Boulahya, the last founding member of the party still in function officially became the leader in 2002.
The party successfully participated in the 2004 legislative elections, obtaining 14 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, making it the largest (opposition) party in the Chamber under the domination of the RCD. The number of seats grew to 16 seats at the 2009 election. The Movement of Social-Democrats offers almost the same program as the RCD, apart from being more Arab nationalist and socialist. The party obtained 2 seats in the latest NCA elections in October 2011 elections but of the two deputies, one joined Ennahda in 2013 and the other one joined the Social Democratic Path in 2014.
Ennahda Movement, Renaissance Party, Hizb al-Nahda
Leader: Rached Al-Ghannouchi
Secretary General: Hamadi Jebali
Initially established as Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique (MTI) in 1981. The party is theoretically shaped by the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood and its key intellectual in the 1950s and 60s Sayyid Qutb. The party began as a rather radical one, but started to be described as moderate Islamist in the 1980s and changed it’s name to the current one in 1988 after Ben Ali’s National Pact that sought to separate religion from politics. They advocate democracy and a Tunisian form of Islamism also described as political pluralism.
In elections held in 1989, Ennahda came in second place to the RCD. Shortly afterwards, Ennahda was banned, and its leader Rachid Ghannouchi fled the country for the UK as he and other Ennahda members were prosecuted for “membership in an illegal organization.” After the collapse of the Ben Ali regime the Tunisian interim government granted the group permission to form a political party. The Ennahda party became the biggest and best organised party and won 89 seats in the 2011 Constituent Assembly elections.
Ennahda sees itself as an advocate of Islamic democracy, like Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. The party can be seen as a centre-right party that is sympathetic towards economic liberalism. Ennahda’s leadership has stressed that it supports equal rights for men and women, although only two women are at first position for the NCA election. Nevertheless, secularists remain wary of Ennahda, whose party’s strongest support comes from Tunisia’s rural interior.
Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia)
Leader : Beji Caid el Sebsi
Nidaa Tounes was created in June 2012 under the impetus of Beji Caid el Sebsi, a former Tunisian ambassador close to Habib Bourgiba and member of Former President Ben Ali´s government. It highlights several objectives : the introduction of a Constituent Assembly that will draft a solid Constitution, a plan to save the national economy based on national consensus, a process of transitional justice aiming at finalising Tunisia´s post-Ben Ali transition, safeguarding individual freedoms and ensuring the neutrality of mosques. During the launch of the party on 16 June 2012, el Sebsi asked all Tunisians to unite in favour of transition. Nonetheless, its creation has led to a bipolarisation of party politics in the country, by attracting all opponents to Ennahda.
The People’s Petition for Freedom, Justice and Development party, short Popular Petition or Aridha Chaabia party was created after the Tunisian Revolution by the political writer and media entrepreneur, Mohamed Hechmi Hamdi on March 17, 2011. The People’s Petition party included three broad popular ideas during the campaign ahead of the NCA elections in 2011: the formation of a democratic constitution, the adoption of a system of free health care and the dispensation of grants to the unemployed. Hamdi was alleged to have close ties with the ousted President Ben Ali, but claimed those allegations to be false. To the surprise of everyone the party obtained 26 seats in the National assembly during the elections, but did not manage to form a cooperation within a coalition.
Several parties have emerged out of Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party. These parties include al-Waten (The Nation), founded by RCD members who had previously served as Minister of Trade and Tourism and Minister of the Interior; al-Moubedra (The Initiative); the Justice and Liberty party; and The Independence for Liberty party.
The biggest party is the Initiative which was formed on 1 April 2011, led by Kamel Morjane, former Defence and Foreign Minister under Ben Ali. The Initiative party is a centrist party that assertively supports the representation of former RCD members in post-revolutionary politics. It has 5 seats in the NCA.
Tunisian Workers Party
Leader: Hamma Hammami
The Tunisian Workers Party replaced the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Tunisia (PCOT), which was founded in 1986, but banned until the Tunisian revolution. The Workers´ Party is well-organized, and is particularly popular with Tunisia’s student population as it has a youth wing called the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia (UJCT). The party is led by Hamma Hammami, who has been jailed several times since the 1970s for his political activities. His most recent stint in jail was this past January, for speaking to journalists about the demonstrations roiling Tunisia at the time. The party has 3 seats in the NCA.
Leader: Emna Mnif
The party was formed after the revolution and grew famous thanks to its political ads and the perceived modernity of its doctrines. The party could be ideologically classified in the spectrum of centre to liberal and they advocate secularism and emphasize the urge to strengthen the civil liberties while most Tunisians seem to be overwhelmed by other causes related to corruption, unemployment and security. They are being accused to have links to the former dominant party the RCD, however this has been denied by the party itself. Many Tunisians claim that this party is targeted to the upper and wealthy classes and is frequently called bourgeois. Since its establishment, the party has been prone to systematic sabotage; its meetings were disrupted frequently during the last months with the infamous French word ‘dégage’ which means `leave`. They gained 4 seats in the NCA elections in 2011. Afek Tounes merged on 9 April 2012 with several other minor parties among which the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) – which was dissolved - to form the Republican Party. This new party has 11 seats in the NCA and is lead by Maya Jribim, the former leader of the PDP.
Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD)
The RCD dominated all governmental institutions since Tunisia's independence in 1956 until the fall of former President Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, though elections, the latest being in 2009, were subject to widespread claims of fraud. The party was founded by Habib Boutguiba and others in 1934 as the Neo-Destour. They broke away from the Destour (Constitution) Party, established by Abd al-Aziz Thaalbi in 1920. Bourguiba's group felt that the Destour had become too elitist and sought to build a grassroots party that could appeal to the rural and small-town folk that the Destour failed to represent. Under the leadership of Bourgiba's Neo-Destour party Tunisia's independence from France in 1956 ended a protectorate established in 1881. In 1964 the party changed its name to Socialist Destour Party (Parti Socialist Destourien; PSD). The party's final name change occurred in 1988, when the party congress adopted the name Constitutional Democratic Rally. This expressed the new direction of the government party following a coup that replaced Bourguiba with Zayn al-Abidine Ben Ali. On 6 February 2011 the ministry of interior banned all meetings and activities of the party and requested the courts to dissolve it, which they did on 9 March 2011.
Interim President of Tunisia
Leader of the Congress for the Republic (CPR)
Moncef Marzouki (1945) studied medicine in France. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful resistance and travelled to South Africa tot study its transition from Apartheid. After he returned to France he joined the Tunisian League of Human Rights and became an active human rights campaigner. He is widely respected for his opposition to former president Ben Ali which led to several arrests during his lifetime. In 2001 he founded the Congress for the Republic, which was banned in 2002. Still, Marzouki moved to France and continued running it. He only returned home after Mr Ben Ali was toppled.
Members of the Constituent Assembly, the interim parliament, voted to elect Mr Marzouki as president on 12 December 2011, the second most powerful role after the prime minister. He was elected as part of a power-sharing deal between the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and its two smaller secularist coalition partners, Ettakatol and Marzouki's Congress for the Republic. The deal gives the president limited powers. He sets Tunisia's foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister. He is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can only appoint or fire senior officers in consultation with the prime minister.
Interim Prime Minister and Head of Government (since 29 January 2014)
Mehdi Jomaa (1962) studied engineering in Tunis before spending his entire career in the French Total affiliate Hutchinson. His background led him to become Industry Minister in March 2013 in the government of Ali Larayedh before replacing him in January 2014. He is an independent politician and does not officially belong to any political party. He is considered to be a technocrat, whose mandate at the head of Tunisia´s government should not exceed one year. The upcoming parliamentary elections in October will determine who his successor will be.
Mustapha Ben Jafar
President of the National Constituent Assembly
Leader of Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL)
Mustapha Ben Jafar (1940) is the leader and founder of the FDTL. He studied medicine in France and worked as a radiologist after his return to Tunisia in 1970. In 1976 he founded a weekly opinion magazine together with others as well as an organization that evolved into the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH). In 1978 he co-founded the Movement of Socialist Democrats (MDS), which became the largest opposition party. However, Ben Jafar resigned when the party in his opinion had achieved little while cooperated with the ruling party and receiving government subsidy.
In 1994 Ben Jafar founded the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL) party, which was only legally recognized in 2002. Ben Jafar ran for president in the 2009 elections, but was disqualified and did not stand a chance against incumbent president Ben Ali.
After the protests drove President Ben Ali out of Tunisia in January 2011 Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi included Ben Jafar as Minister of Health in an interim government on 17 January 2011. Along with other minority party members, Ben Jafar resigned within days as public protests continued against the dominance of the RCD party in government. The FDTL became the fourth biggest party in the NCA elections on 23 October 2011 and Ben Jafar was elected to the post of President of the Constituent Assembly on 22 November 2011 receiving 145 votes against 68 for opposition candidate Maya Jribi.
Rached Kheriji, known as Rached Ghannouchi (1941) is one of the most prominent politicians in Tunisia as he is the leader of the largest party in Tunisia. He co-founded the Ennahda Movement and is seen as its intellectual leader.
Ghannouchi graduated from Zaytuna University in Tunis in 1962 before he attended Cairo University (Egypt), to study agriculture. After he was expelled form Egypt due to a row between former presidents Bourguiba and Abdel Nasser, Ghannouchi went to University of Damascus (Syria) where he majored in philosophy, and graduated in 1968. Ghannouchi started forming his political orientations as a university student. Despite the fact that he initially joined a socialist party, his views gradually tended towards religious ideology. Ghannouchi then attended the University of Paris, Sorbonne. After studying there for a year, he returned to Tunisia and founded an organization to initiate reforms in the country. Based on his Islamic convictions, he among others initiated the Islamic Tendency Movement in 1981 to fight political pluralism and call for economic reconstruction.
Ghannouchi along with his followers was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1981 where he was tortured. Many Tunisians of the whole political spectrum protested against their torture. Ghannouchi was released in 1984. After being sent back to prison in 1987 with a life sentence, he was released again in 1988. Eventually Ghannouchi was exiled to Algeria, and from there he moved to England in 1991, where he lived for over twenty years. During his exile, Ghannouchi was a tireless critic of the political regime in Tunisia. On 30 January 2011 Ghannouchi returned to Tunis for the first time in two decades.
His party the Ennahda, won 89 of the 217 seats in the Constituent Assembly’s elections in October 2011, the second party gaining at a much lower rate of 29 seats.
Zine el Abidine Ben Ali
Zine el Abidine Ben Ali (1936), was president of Tunisia from 7 November 1987 until 14 January 2011. He replaced the previous president, Habib Bourguiba, in a bloodless coup after doctors declared Bourguiba unfit for presidency by reason of senility. After continuing protests and violence that occurred during protests that started in December 2010 Ben Ali stated he would not run for President again in 2014. When mass rallies continued Ben Ali was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia together with his wife Leila Trabelsi and three children on 14 January 2011.
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Moncef Marzouki: Flickr Tab59
Hamadi Jebali: Flickr Ennahda
Mustapha Ben Jafar: Flickr Party of European Socialists (PES)