Politics of Tunisia

Tunisian Chamber of Deputies.

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The politics of Tunisia function within a framework of a republic organized under a constitution, with a President serving as head of state, Prime Minister as head of government, a bicameral legislature and a court system influenced by French civil law. While Tunisia is a multi-party system, the secular Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) led by former Presidents Habib Bourgiba and then Zine el Abidine Ben Ali received overwhelming support in national elections since Tunisia won independence from the French colonial empire in 1956; however, in early 2011 a national uprising led to the resignation of the President and the destruction of the RCD.

Tunisia is a member of the Arab League, the African Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It maintains close relations with France and the European Union, with which it entered an Association Agreement in 1995.[1] Tunisia’s favorable relations with the European Union was earned following years of successful economic cooperation in the private sector and infrastructure modernization.[2]


Structure of government

Tunisia is a constitutional republic characterized by an executive president, a legislature and judiciary. The military is professional and does not play any role in national politics.

Executive branch

In Tunisia, the President is elected to five-year terms. He appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also are appointed by the central government. Mayors and municipal councils are elected.

Legislative branch

The lower house of the bicameral Parliament is the Chamber of Deputies of Tunisia (Majlis al-Nuwaab), which has 214 seats. Members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. 20% At least 25% of the seats in the House of Deputies are reserved for the opposition. More than 27% of the members of the Chamber of Deputies are women. The Lower House plays a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy especially that it hosts representatives from six opposition parties. Opposition members often vote against bills or abstain. Because of the comfortable majority enjoyed by the governing party, bills usually pass with only minor changes.[3]

The upper house is the Chamber of Advisors, which includes 112 members including representatives of governorates (provinces), professional organizations and national figures. 41 members are appointed by the Head of state while the remainder are elected by their peers. About 15% of the members of the Chamber of advisors are women.[4]

Judicial branch

The Tunisian legal system is based on French civil law system and Islamic law[2]; some judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court in joint session. The judiciary is independent, although the judicial council is chaired by the head of state.

Political parties and elections

Since 1987 Tunisia has reformed its political system several times, abolishing life-term presidencies and opening up the parliament to opposition parties. The number of new political parties and associations has notably increased since the beginning of Ben Ali's presidency in 1987. Currently there are eight recognized national parties, six of which hold national legislative seats.

Since his accession to the Presidency, the President's party, known as the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), rallied majorities in local, regional, and national elections. Although the party was renamed (in President Bourguiba’s days it was the Socialist Destourian Party), its policies were still considered to be largely secular and conservative. However, the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 saw its removal from power.

2009 national elections

The Tunisian national elections of 2009, overseen by the Interior Ministry and held on October 25, 2009, elected candidates for president and legislative offices. During the campaign, speeches by candidates were aired on Tunisian radio and television stations.[5] Participation was 89% of resident citizens and 90% of citizens living abroad. In the presidential vote, Ben Ali soundly defeated his challengers, Mohamed Bouchiha (PUP), Ahmed Inoubli (UDU) and Ahmed Ibrahim (Ettajdid Movement) for a fifth term in office. His 89% of the vote was slightly lower than in the 2004 election.[6] In the parliamentary elections, the RCD received 84% of the vote for 161 constituency seats. The MDS won 16 seats under the proportional representation system, followed by the PUP with 12 seats. 59 women were elected to legislative seats.[7]

The election was criticized by opposition parties and some international observers for limitations placed on non-incumbents. In one instance, the Ettajdid party's weekly publication, Ettarik al-Jadid, was seized by authorities for violating campaign communications laws.[8] Meanwhile, a delegation from the African Union Commission praised the election for taking place with "calm and serenity"[9] Prior to the 2009 election, Tunisia amended its constitution to allow more candidates to run for president, allowing the top official from each political party to compete for the presidency regardless of whether they held seats in parliament.[10]

2011 national elections

Following the 2010–2011 protests and the vacation of the Presidency by President Ben Ali, elections are scheduled to be held within 60 days of 15 January 2011.[11][12]

Politics and society

Women's equality

Women hold 23 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, outpacing the percentage of women serving in the U.S. Congress, which stands at 17 percent in the 111th Congress. More than one-fifth of the seats in both chambers of parliament are held by women, an exceptionally high level in the Arab world.[13]

Tunisia is the only country in the Arab world where polygamy is forbidden by law. This is part of a provision in the country’s Code of Personal Status which was introduced by President Bourguiba in 1956.[14]

Civil unrest

The government's success in suppressing violent Islamist extremists, along with its pro-western foreign policy, has moderated Western criticism of what some have characterized as Tunisia’s slow pace in improving democratic practices. Groups such as Amnesty International[15] have documented some restriction of basic human rights and obstruction of human rights organizations. The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index ranks Tunisia 141 out of 167 studied countries and 143 out of 173 regarding freedom of the press.[16]

Though the government received criticism in 2008 for its handling of social unrest in the town of Gafsa, it has been broadly praised for its efforts to respond constructively to the events. Trade unionists initially arrested for protesting working conditions were released on the order of President Ben Ali and officially pardoned in October 2009[17] in a move that was welcomed by Amnesty International.[18]

Levels of democracy and freedom of expression in the country are criticised by Amnesty International and various other organizations.[19]

2010–2011 revolution

Protests in 2010–2011 led to President Ben Ali fleeing Tunisia, his presidency being declared vacant by the Constitutional Council, and Fouad Mebazaa becoming acting President for up to 60 days.[11][12]


Freedom of the press is officially guaranteed and condoned, however, independent press remains restricted, as does a substantial amount of web content. Journalists are often obstructed from reporting on controversial events.[20] Prior to the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia practiced internet censorship against popular websites such as YouTube. Reporters Without Borders includes Tunisia in the country list of “Enemies of the Internet".[21] However, Tunisia has recently shown interest in improving its information policy, hosting the second half of the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society in 2005,[22] which endorsed the freedom of the internet as a platform for political participation and human rights protection. Furthermore, Tunisians have grown online, as witnessed by the more than 3.5 million regular internet users, 1.6 million Facebook users[23] and hundreds of internet cafes, known as ‘publinet.’

Five private radio stations have been established, including Mosaique FM, Express FM, Shems FM [24] and private television stations such as Hannibal TV and Nessma TV.[25]

Administrative divisions

Tunisia is divided into 24 governorates:

International organization participation

Tunisia is a participant in the following international organizations:

See also


  1. ^ European Union Association Agreement, Ministry of Development and International Cooperation, 2009.
  2. ^ "Tunisian Partnership with Europe" Defense Technical Information Center, 2004
  3. ^ The Council of Deputies, Republic of Tunisia.
  4. ^ Chamber of Advisers
  5. ^ Tunisian candidates kick off campaigns, Magharebia.com, 2009.
  6. ^ Results of presidential elections, TunisiaOnline.com, 25 October 2004.
  7. ^ "Final Results for the 2009 Legislative Elections" Republic of Tunisia: National Observatory of Presidential and Legislative Elections, 2009
  8. ^ "Tunisia: Elections in an Atmosphere of Repression" Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch, 2009
  9. ^ "AU: October 25th Tunisian Elections Held in Calm and Serenity" Tunisia Online News, 2009
  10. ^ "Tunisia's Image Belies Poll Control" BBC News, Rana Jawad, 2009
  11. ^ a b Tunisian parliamentary speaker becomes acting president: officials Ahramonline 2011-01-15
  12. ^ a b "Tunisia swears in interim leader". al Jazeera. 2011-01-15. Archived from the original on 2011-01-15. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/201111513513854222.html. Retrieved 2011-01-15. 
  13. ^ [1] Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2010
  14. ^ "Polygamy and Family Law" Reset Doc, Valentina M. Donini, Friday, 17 April 2009
  15. ^ "Tunisia: Open Letter, Strong Concern..." Amnesty International, 2010
  16. ^ "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy 2008" The Economist, 2008
  17. ^ "Ben Ali Pardons Gafsa Prisoners" Maghairbia, 2009
  18. ^ "Tunisia releases prisoners held over Gafsa protests" Amnesty International, 6 November 2009.
  19. ^ "World Media Comment on President Ben Ali's Speech" Agence Tunis Afrique Press, 2009
  20. ^ "Profile on Tunisian Media" Open Net Initiative, 2009
  21. ^ "RWB Issues Enemies of the Internet List" PBS, 2010
  22. ^ "Second Phase of WSIS: Tunisia 2005" WSIS, 2005
  23. ^ Facebook bigger than newspapers? So what?, Spot On, May 25th, 2010.
  24. ^ "Shems FM hits Tunisia airwaves" Houda Trabelsi, October 5, 2010
  25. ^ "Television TV in Tunisia" TunisPro

External links

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