Politics of Tunisia

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Tunisian Chamber of Deputies.

The politics of Tunisia takes place within the framework of a unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic,[1] with a President serving as head of state, Prime Minister as head of government, a unicameral legislature and a court system influenced by French civil law. Between 1956 and 2011, Tunisia operated as a de facto one-party state, with politics dominated by the secular Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) under former Presidents Habib Bourgiba and then Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. However, in 2011 a national uprising led to the ousting of the President and the dismantling of the RCD, paving the way for a multi-party democracy. October 2014 saw the first democratic parliamentary elections since the 2011 revolution, resulting in a win by the secularist Nidaa Tounes party with 85 seats in the 217-member assembly.[2]

Tunisia is a member of the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It maintains close relations with the United States, France and the European Union, with which it entered an Association Agreement in 1995.[3] Tunisia’s favorable relations with the United States and the European Union was earned following years of successful economic cooperation in the private sector and infrastructure modernization.[4]

Structure of government

Tunisia is a representative democracy characterized by an executive president, a legislature and judiciary. The military is neutral 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

Tunisia's legislative branch consists of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, which consists of 217 seats. The first elections for the Assembly of the Representative of the People occurred on 26 October 2014.

Before 2011 revolution the parliament was bicameral. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament was the Chamber of Deputies of Tunisia (Majlis al-Nuwaab), which had 214 seats. Members were elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. At least 25% of the seats in the House of Deputies were reserved for the opposition. More than 27% of the members of the Chamber of Deputies were women. The Lower House played a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy especially that it hosted representatives from six opposition parties. Opposition members often voted against bills or abstain. Because of the comfortable majority enjoyed by the governing party, bills usually passed with only minor changes.[5]

The upper house was the Chamber of Advisors, which included 112 members including representatives of governorates (provinces), professional organizations and national figures. 41 members were appointed by the Head of state while the remainder were elected by their peers. About 15% of the members of the Chamber of advisors were women.[6]

Judicial branch

The Tunisian legal system is based on French civil law system and Islamic law; 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

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Tunisia. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Tunisia.

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] Meanwhile, a delegation from the African Union Commission praised the election for taking place with "calm and serenity"[11] 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.[12]

2011 Constituent Assembly election

Following the 2010–2011 protests and the vacation of the Presidency by President Ben Ali, elections for a Constituent Assembly were held on 23 October 2011. Results were announced on 25 October 2011 with the center-right and moderately Islamist Ennahda winning a plurality with 37% of the vote.[13]

2014 parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections were held in Tunisia on 26 October 2014. Results were announced on 27 October 2014 with secularist Nidaa Tounes winning a plurality with 38% of the vote.[14]

Politics and society

Women's equality

Women hold 23% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, outpacing the percentage of women serving in the U.S. Congress, which stands at 17% 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.[15]

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.[16][17]


Ben Ali regime

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was criticized for the low levels of democracy and freedom of expression in the country by Amnesty International and various other organizations.[18][19] which documented restriction of basic human rights and obstruction of human rights organizations. The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index ranked Tunisia 141 out of 167 studied countries and 143 out of 173 regarding freedom of the press.[20] Later in his rule repression became more brutal, corruption more visible and the economy more stagnant.[21]

2010–2011 revolution

The Jasmine Revolution overthrew President Ben Ali in 2011 -- marking the beginning of the Arab Spring.

On 14 January 2011, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia, ending 23 years in power,[22][23] following the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades.[24][25] Street protests and civil disobedience[26][27] against high unemployment, food inflation, corruption,[28][29] a lack of political freedoms like freedom of speech[30] and poor living conditions, were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010[31][32][33]

A Constituent Assembly was elected on 23 October 2011, and a new constitution was adopted on 26 January 2014. It was passed on 10 February 2014[34]


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.[35] Prior to the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia practiced internet censorship against popular websites such as YouTube. In 2010 Reporters Without Borders included Tunisia in the country list of “Enemies of the Internet".[36] 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,[37] 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[38] and hundreds of internet cafes, known as ‘publinet.’

Five private radio stations have been established, including Mosaique FM, Express FM, Shems FM [39] and private television stations such as Hannibal TV and Nessma TV.[40]

Administrative divisions

Tunisia is divided into 24 governorates:

International organization participation

Tunisia is a participant in the following international organizations:

See also


  1. Choudhry, Sujit; Stacey, Richard (2014) "Semi-presidential government in Tunisia and Egypt". International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  2. "Secularist Nidaa Tounes party wins Tunisia election" BBC, 2014
  3. European Union Association Agreement, Ministry of Development and International Cooperation, 2009.
  4. "Tunisian Partnership with Europe" Defense Technical Information Center, 2004
  5. The Council of Deputies, Republic of Tunisia.
  6. Chamber of Advisers
  7. Tunisian candidates kick off campaigns, Magharebia.com, 2009.
  8. Results of presidential elections, TunisiaOnline.com, 25 October 2004.
  9. "Final Results for the 2009 Legislative Elections" Republic of Tunisia: National Observatory of Presidential and Legislative Elections, 2009
  10. "Tunisia: Elections in an Atmosphere of Repression" Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch, 2009
  11. "AU: October 25th Tunisian Elections Held in Calm and Serenity" Tunisia Online News, 2009
  12. "Tunisia's Image Belies Poll Control" BBC News, Rana Jawad, 2009
  13. "Final Results of Tunisian Elections Announced". Tunisia Live. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  14. "Secular party takes lead in Tunisia elections". Al Jazeera. 27 October 2014. Retrieved 25 27 October 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. "Tunisia: Majlis Al-Nuwab (Chamber of Deputies)-October 2009". Inter-Parliamentary Union. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  16. Donini, Valentina M. (April 17, 2009). "Polygamy and Family Law". Reset Doc. Association Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  17. "Polygamy and Family Law" , Valentina M. Donini, Friday, 17 April 2009
  18. "World Media Comment on President Ben Ali's Speech". Zawya. Agence Tunis Afrique Presse. October 16, 2009. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  19. "Tunisia: Open Letter, Strong Concern..." Amnesty International, 2010
  20. "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy 2008" The Economist, 2008
  21. Gasiorowski, Mark (2017). The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa. Westview Press. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  22. Davies, Wyre (15 December 2010). "Tunisia: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali forced out". BBC News. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  23. "Uprising in Tunisia: People Power topples Ben Ali regime". Indybay. 16 January 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  24. "Tunisia's Protest Wave: Where It Comes From and What It Means for Ben Ali | The Middle East Channel". Mideast.foreignpolicy.com. 3 January 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  25. Borger, Julian (29 December 2010). "Tunisian president vows to punish rioters after worst unrest in a decade". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
  26. Tunisian parliamentary speaker becomes acting president: officials Ahramonline 2011-01-15
  27. "Tunisia swears in interim leader". al Jazeera. 2011-01-15. Archived from the original on 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  28. "A Snapshot of Corruption in Tunisia". Business Anti-Corruption Portal. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  29. Spencer, Richard (13 January 2011). "Tunisia riots: Reform or be overthrown, US tells Arab states amid fresh riots". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  30. Ryan, Yasmine. "Tunisia's bitter cyberwar". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  31. Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi dies, BBC, 5 January 2011.
  32. Fahim, Kareem (21 January 2011). "Slap to a Man's Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  33. Worth, Robert F. (21 January 2011). "How a Single Match Can Ignite a Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  34. « Tunisie : la nouvelle Constitution entre en vigueur », La Libre Belgique, February 10 2014.
  35. "Profile on Tunisian Media", Open Net Initiative, 2009
  36. "RWB Issues Enemies of the Internet List" PBS, 2010
  37. "Second Phase of WSIS: Tunisia 2005" WSIS, 2005
  38. Facebook bigger than newspapers? So what?, Spot On, May 25th, 2010.
  39. "Shems FM hits Tunisia airwaves" Houda Trabelsi, October 5, 2010
  40. "Television TV in Tunisia" TunisPro
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