Tuesday, 28 January 2014


After two years of work, a 146-article draft constitution was completed. It was put to a vote on 26 January 2014, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. The Constituent Assembly adopted the document by a 200-4 vote with 12 abstentions. President Marzouki remarked: "With the birth of this text, we confirm our victory over dictatorship", and signed it into law today .Tunisia’s new constitution was signed today by the country’s political leaders, finalizing a process that began with the election of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in October 2011.

President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh, and NCA Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar formally adopted the document in a ceremony held Monday at the assembly building in Bardo, near Tunis. In attendance were NCA members, political and civil society leaders, and representatives of foreign governments.Members of Laarayedh’s Ennahdha party cheered as he stepped to the desk and put pen to paper. Securing the signature of the Ennahdha leader on the constitution before he left office was seen as a priority for the party. President Marzouki delivered a short speech celebrating the achievement, but emphasized that more needed to be done in the country’s post-revolutionary transition. “We have the right today to be proud of our people, our nation, and our country,” Marzouki said. “But we have to get back to work.” At the end of his speech, Marzouki shouted “Long live the revolution!” and “Long live freedom!” before flashing a victory sign to the crowd. A statement from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon stated that the adoption of the constitution was “another historic milestone” for the country, and that “Tunisia’s example can be a model to other peoples seeking reforms

  • Two years in the making and now in its third draft, the charter is a carefully worded blend of ideas that has won the support of both Ennahda, the Islamist party that leads the interim government, and the secular opposition. It is being hailed as one of the most liberal constitutions in an Arab nation.The atmosphere in the 217-member assembly drafting the charter changed remarkably , as members put aside the hostilities that had suspended the proceedings for five months and worked 14-hour days to debate and vote on the draft, article by article.
  • The approval of the new constitution is a milestone for Tunisia's democratic transition, and bodes well for the holding of new elections in late 2014.The new caretaker government will be more resilient to political shocks than its Islamist-led Predecessor, although it is still faced with rising terrorism risks and high civil unrest risks stemming from poverty and unemployment.Although the new constitution is a positive indicator for governance in Tunisia, underlying social and economic issues will ensure political risks remain elevated in the two-year outlook.


Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly (NCA) approved the country's new constitution on 26 January, concluding a two-year drafting process typified by tumultuous debate and policy deadlock. The new constitution marks the end of the term of office of the Islamist al-Nahda Party-led coalition government, in line with the trades unions brokered political road map. A caretaker government of technocrats headed by Prime Minister-designate Mehdi Jomaa is due to take office this week. Jomaa's administration will then steer Tunisia towards new presidential and parliamentary elections, likely to be held in the latter half of 2014. The holding of these elections will mark the completion of Tunisia's post-revolutionary transition to a semi-presidential democracy.

Progressive constitution

The approval of the new constitution by more than 90% of the NCA highlights the widespread political support the document enjoys. This support provides a firm basis for future governments, and will increase long-term political stability. Decentralised government has been enshrined to address the regional economic disparities that contributed to the January 2011 revolution. These issues remain salient, particularly in Tunisia's interior and southern governorates, where unemployment rates are often double the 16% national average. Despite the constitution's provisions for decentralised government, this is likely to be implemented slowly due to more pressing priorities, such as cutting public expenditure and raising the government's revenue base to meet the requirements of foreign creditors. Accordingly, in the one- to two-year outlook economically motivated civil unrest is likely to remain a problem in Tunisia's interior and south, particularly in Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, Sfax, and Kasserine.Articles related to religion were among the most fiercely contested. Article 1 of the constitution enshrines Islam as the state religion, but does not list it as a source of law or legislation as many in al-Nahda had demanded. Freedom of expression is protected in Article 6, which also prohibits "takfir" (charges of apostasy), while outlawing attacks on the sacred. Although these provisions are likely to calm the debate over the role of Islam in politics, they are unlikely to bridge the divide in Tunisia's traditionally secular civil society between Salafists and hard-line secularists. Salafist activists are therefore likely to continue targeting bars and entertainment venues for disruption and intimidation, particularly in the interior governorates, in accordance with their strict interpretation of Islamic values. This will especially be the case for locations serving alcohol to Tunisians rather than catering almost exclusively to foreigners. Fighting between trade unionists and Salafists is also likely to be a recurring risk as each group vies for political influence at a local level, particularly in economically marginalised cities such as Sidi Bouzid. Moreover, a government crackdown against the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR) Islamist militias will probably result in increased protests from the group, which is likely to be met with counter-protests by unions and the left-wing Popular Front (Front Populaire).

Government resilience

The new technocratic government will be more resilient than its Islamist-led predecessor to political shocks, such as assassinations and terrorist attacks. Despite the progress in the political sphere, terrorism risks in Tunisia are likely to increase in the coming years as a result of Islamist militancy in Libya and eastern Algeria, and the eventual return of Tunisian jihadists from Syria. This increases the likelihood that the Tunisian security services and military will be subject to terrorist attacks inflicting significant casualties. The likely continuation of hostile rhetoric between supporters of political Islam, represented by al-Nahda, and supporters of left-wing secularism, represented by the Popular Front and trade unions, contributes to a high risk of further political assassinations. Islamist militancy in the western Jebel Chaambi region along the border with Algeria will remain a threat, and incidences of domestic terrorism are likely to increase as a result of the radicalisation of disaffected Salafists, and the return home of Tunisian jihadists from Syria. Whereas the al-Nahda-led coalition was vulnerable to accusations of complicity with religiously motivated violence due to its association with the LPR, the new government will have more latitude to address these problems. This will reduce the risk of policy paralysis similar to that experienced throughout 2013 following the assassinations of leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi. Nonetheless, Jomaa and his caretaker government will be judged on how efficiently the NCA's remaining business is concluded, and the new elections organised. The high likelihood of further terrorist attacks against government and tourism assets in the run-up to the elections, and ongoing socio-economic civil unrest prompted by IMF-mandated austerity measures, will ensure that Tunisia's problems will not be solved by the passage of the long-awaited constitution.


The broad political support for the new constitution is a positive indicator for political stability in Tunisia ahead of new elections due in late-2014. The concessions made by both al-Nahda and the secular opposition to guarantee its passage suggest that consensual policy making is likely to continue. However, major economic decisions are likely to be saved for the next government, and in public the process is likely to appear as fractious as ever. Despite increased political stability, the new government will face the same challenges as its predecessor in tackling rising insecurity. The government that takes office after the 2014 elections is likely to continue cutting government expenditure, whichever parties are involved. A coalition involving either al-Nahda or the major opposition Nidaa Tounes party is likely, each of which will have to face trade union-organised labour unrest over pay and rising living costs, and continuing demands for increased employment in the interior and south. Moreover, either coalition will probably be divided and subject to lengthy delays in deciding and implementing policy. Although al-Nahda is likely to have coherent economic policies and a clearly expressed political vision, its relationship with the unions and media is likely to be hostile and dysfunctional. Nidaa Tounes by contrast is likely to enjoy better relations with the secular establishment, but internal party cohesion is likely to be extremely weak, increasing the risk of policy dysfunction and lethargic governance. Neither coalition would be likely to effectively implement policy and reduce the high risk of localised unrest resulting from socio-economic inequality and lack of jobs.


No comments: