Tunisia is currently led by a government of unity. It was created by a process initiated by President Beji Caid Essebsi and formalized in July 2016 through the Carthage Agreement. A coalition was formed of the two biggest parties - the secular Nidaa Tounes and Islamist party Ennahda - with the involvement of smaller parties and important non-governmental actors. While the government promotes unity, it has not succeeded in addressing growing discontent of the Tunisian people. Issues such as youth unemployment and corruption are bigger than during the Arab Spring and have led to new protests. Moreover, after several terrorist attacks, security measures have been taken that threaten civic rights which Tunisia was lauded for with the introduction of its new constitution.
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- 11,532,127 million (World Bank 2017 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- Unity government
- Last Elections:
- 2019 (parliamentary and presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2024 (parliamentary and presidential elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Forum Démocratique pour le Travail et les Libertés (FDTL) - Ettakatol
Tunisian revolution and the political situation under Ben Ali
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 15 January. On 17 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. 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 percent 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.
2014 new constitution and the political system
Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution for the country on 25 January 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. 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.
Merger of Nidaa Tounes and Free Patriotic Union
In mid-October 2018, a merger occurred between Nidaa Tounes and the Free Patriotic Union, under the name of the former. Free Patriotic Union-leader Slim Riahi became the secretary-general of the new party (the former occupant of that post, Mohsen Marzouk, left in late 2015 to later form Machrouu Tounes), while Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, son of the former president, became its executive director. It has been reported that Nidaa Tounes made this move in the context of the conflict with prime minister Youssef Chahed and rival party Ennahda, to obtain a stronger position in parliament. However, after the reshuffle of the seats in parliament, which took place in early November, this increase seems to have had little effect.
Gender representation and minority rights
Tunisia is often said to be the most progressive Arab country in terms of women’s rights. In fact, female representation in parliament has risen to 31% since 2011. The constitution of 2014 not only grants equality of men and women but also includes a “guarantee of equality of opportunity” and aims “to achieve equal representation…in elected councils” in article 46, stating clear goals. In 2017 two further laws, which strengthened women´s rights, passed the parliament. Since June domestic violence has been criminalized and Muslim women are able to marry non-Muslim men (interfaith marriages), which according to Islamic law, is not allowed. Additionally, the parliament abolished a reform which would have allowed rapists to escape punishments by marrying the victim.
But progress has its barriers in Tunisia. Men are still considered to be the one who take care of the family and its finances, although a growing number of female workers has been entering the labour market. Restrictions come from the rulings of the Islamic law, highly influential religious institutions and most importantly society itself. Current president Beji Caid Essbsi’s steps towards giving women more rights (mainly to show the world, how modern Tunisia is), have been heavily criticised as “state-imposed feminism”. Many say, that the government is touching Tunisian cultural roots and strongly oppose new laws like the inheritance law, granting women the same amount as men.
Other than that, many minorities suffer under current religion based laws. Protests for more rights of LGBT+ groups have been shut down for various reasons. Hate speech in public media is very common and government statements on the situation are very rare, although discrimination from TV stations and news agencies is forbidden. Homosexuality remains illegal and punishable in Tunisia under article 230 of the penal code. Critics have been repeatedly saying that article 230 violates constitutional rights such as equality before law (article 21) and personal privacy (article 24). Through a new committee, established by the president, women’s rights and the status of the LGBT+ community have been discussed and might be reformed through bills in the parliament. The most recent improvement in Tunisia was the founding of the region’s first queer radio station ‘Shams’, which against many death threats, still broadcasts on the daily lives of LGBT+ individuals.
Parliamentary elections October 2019
On October 6th 2019 parliamentary elections were held in Tunisia. These were the first parliamentary elections since 2014 where catch-all secular party Nidaa Tounes (also known as ‘Call of Tunisia’) became the biggest party with 86 seats, followed by the Ennahda movement (a moderate Islamic party) with 69 seats.
The voter turnout was approximately 41%, which is slightly lower than that of the first round in the presidential elections of the previous month where the voter turnout was about 49%. The election results produced a fractured parliament with none of the parties receiving more than 20% of the votes. The Ennahda Movement received the highest percentage of votes with 19.93% of the votes which translates into 52 seats. This constitutes a loss of 17 seats in comparison to the previous parliamentary elections but an increase of 5 percentage points in comparison to that of what its presidential candidate Abdelfattah Mourou received less than a month earlier. There are two factors that can explain the quick voter share increase. The first is that Ennahda endorsed Kais Saied, the winner of the first round of the presidential elections. Saied did not belong to or endorse any political party and therefore his voters were up for grabs in the parliamentary elections. Ennahda not only endorsed Saied but attempted to convince his voters that Ennahda was their best hope for forming a government that was friendly to a Saied presidency. Second, after Ennahda’s own presidential candidate Mourou finished third place in the presidential election, they reevaluated their campaign strategy. For the parliamentary election Ennahda focused on two fundamentals, namely religion and the revolution which in the end proved successful.
The second largest party was the center-left secular newcomer ‘Heart of Tunisia’ party. The party was established on the 20th of June 2019 by Nabil Karoui. Houda Knani was named the party’s president. She was a former member of the Free Patriotic Union that won 16 seats (third biggest party) in the last election. However, due to internal disputes many of its members resigned so the Free Patriotic Union decided to merge with Nidaa Tounes in 2018. Another newcomer to parliament was the right-wing secular Free Destourian Party, founded by former members of Tunisia’s pre-revolution ruling party, which became the third biggest party winning 6.63% of the votes and was appointed 17 seats. Up until August 2016 the party was called Destourian Movement. The movement participated in the 2014 parliamentary election but did not win any seats. Dignity Coalition also came new to the scene winning 21 seats, making it the fourth largest party. The alliance was formed in February 2019 and consists of several parties and independents, such as the Tunisian Reform Front, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Justice and Development Party. Their main goal is to advance the goals of the revolution, in which ‘dignity’ was one of the main slogans. Just ahead of the Dignity Coalition, Democratic Current won 22 seats making it the third largest party. Democratic current is a social-democratic party and was established in 2013. In the 2014 parliamentary election the party just won 3 seats. In fifth place finishes the People’s Movement party with 15 seats. The party is socialist, secular and Arab nationalist in nature. Closely following behind, in sixth place, came in secular party Tahya Tounes (Long Live Tunisia) with 14 seats. This party was formed in January of 2019 and consist mostly of former members of the Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) party after mass defection over internal disagreements whether or not president Essebsi’s son (Hafed Caid Essebsi) was fit to run the party. As a result Nidaa Tounes’ seats fell from 86 in the 2014 parliamentary election to just 3 in the 2019 election.
According to the joint international election observation mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) Tunisians were overall able to participate in a well-administered election despite confusion created by the overlapping presidential election and the shortened electoral timeline. De lower voter turnout of 41% compared to the 2014 parliamentary election where turnout was approximately 60% can according to them be attributed to the continued frustration with persistent corruption and the ongoing economic crisis, as well as the lack of speed to implement reforms. This dissatisfaction is also reflected in the election results. Moreover, the election was held amidst high security threats of terrorism which could have impacted voter turnout. However, officials overall did what they could to facilitate the election which is evident from the increase in protection at polling stations. The election observation mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) stated as well that it had not found any serious election violations, echoing what the NDI and IRI said about Tunisians being able to participate in a well-administered election.
Official election results
|Heart of Tunisia||415,913||38|
|Free Destourian Party||189,356||17|
|Republican People's Union||59,924||3|
|Aïch Tounsi||46, 401||1|
|Democratic and Social Union (VDS-PR-MDS)||29,828||1|
|Current of Love||17,749||1|
|Socialist Destourian Party||16,235||1|
|Farmers' Voice Party||9,366||1|
Forming the government
Since the parliamentary election the process of forming a government has been challenging. In November Ennahda proposed Habib Jemli, an agricultural engineer, as prime-minister. Even though Jemli presented himself as independent, it is widely known that he has close ties to Ennahda. In January of 2020 Jemli proposed a cabinet made up of independent technocrats to avoid political polarization and prevent parliamentarians from objecting to the government. However, parliament rejected the proposed cabinet with only backing it with 72 of the 217 votes. One argument for why the government was rejected was that some members of parliament preferred a candidate that did not have close ties to Ennahda but was instead independent. The cabinet was by many seen as a move by Ennahda to press its allies into government since upon closer inspection the proposed cabinet was not as independent as it may seemed, just like Jemli. Another argument was that some members of parliament preferred a candidate with an economic background that could help save the worsening economy. Since the proposal for a new government was rejected, it was up to president Saied to choose a new candidate for prime-minister within 10 days. On January 20th he chose former finance minister Elyes Fakhfakh. On the 15th of February Fakhfakh proposed a new government half of which was made up of independents and half of party politician. However, Fakhfakh left the ‘Heart of Tunisia’ and the Free Destourian party out of its formation. Ennahda refused to back a government that did not represent all parties and therefore Fakhfakh was forced to start negotiations since the proposal included 6 Ennahda members in government. Since the election the People’s movement has formed a parliamentary block with Democratic Current and independents (41 seats), which voted in favor the proposal on the 26th of February 2020. In total 129 out of 217 members backed the new cabinet which means that Tunisia's four month long political crisis has come to an end.
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 was to write a new constitution for the country and to form an interim government. 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. 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 also performed normal parliamentary functions in that year, such as government oversight and the drafting of new legislation.
Presidential elections 2019
On September 15th 2019 Tunisia held the first round of the presidential elections, followed by a second round on October 13th 2019. This was the second presidential election after the 2011 revolution. The election was originally planned on the 17th and 24th of November 2019, but because of the death of incumbent president Beji Caid Essebsi on the 25th of July they were moved. According to the Tunisian constitution a new president has to take office within 90 days because any interim president is only allowed to sit for that amount of time.
In the first round, independent candidate Kais Saied came in first out of 26 candidates, of which two were women. Saied was a newcomer to Tunisian politics but nevertheless received more than 18% of the votes. Before the revolution Saied was involved in academics but became a well known media figure through his comments on constitutional and legal issues after the fall of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He gained a huge following online, especially among young people, for his spontaneity, sincerity and comfort with public speaking that distinguished him from the traditional stereotype of politicians. The runner up in the first round of the election was Nabil Karoui of Qalb Tounes (also known as Heart of Tunisia party) who ran his campaign from prison. Karoui was arrested on August 23rd on charges of corruption and money laundering. Prior to the first round of the election, the Assembly of Representatives (Tunisia’s legislative branch of government) passed an amendment to the law that prohibited candidates with a criminal record, as well as those who run charitable organizations or received foreign funding for political advertising in the year preceding an election, from running for president. The amendment caused a lot of controversy and a motion was filed by several political parties that called the move unconstitutional.
However, outgoing president Essebsi failed to ratify the legal amendment before he died which made it possible for Karoui to form the ‘Heart of Tunisia’ party and run for president after all, winning nearly 16% of the votes. In third place Ennahda’s candidate Abdelfattah Mourou came in a full five points behind Saied. The winner of the 2014 legislative elections, the Nidaa Tounes party, was completely absent from the presidential election after the death of former president and Nidaa Tounes founder Beji Caid Essebsi. After Essebsi’s death the leaders of the party and its supporters all dispersed.
The second round of the election saw Saied and Karoui go head to head. Saied won by receiving 72.7% of the votes. Voter turnout was estimated at 55%. The Sigma polling institute determined that 90% of young people between 18 and 25 voted for Saied, compared to the 49.2% of voters over 60. The election day itself went by without any incidents, but despite that national and international observers reported that there were problems with the transparency and the integrity of the electoral contest. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), who held a joined international election observation mission in Tunisia, for example reported that they had concerns about candidates’ level of media access as well as about the coverage of the electoral campaign.
Official election results
|First Round||Second Round|
|Candidate||Party||Votes - Percentage||Votes - Percentage|
|Kais Saied||Independent||620,711 - 18.40%||2,777,931 - 72.71%|
|Nabil Karoui||Heart of Tunisia||525,517 - 15.58%||1,042,894 - 27.29%|
|Abdelfattah Mourou||Ennahda Movement||434,530 - 12,88%|
|Abdelkrim Zbidi||Independent||361,864 - 10.73%|
|Youssef Chahed||Long Live Tunisia||249,049 - 7.38%|
|Safi Saïd||Independent||239,951 - 7.11%|
|Lotfi Mraihi||Republican People's Union||221,190 - 6.56%|
|Seiffedine Makhlouf||Dignity Coalition||147,351 - 4.37%|
|Abir Moussi||Free Destourian Party||135,461 - 4.02%|
|Mohamed Abbou||Democratic Current||122,287 - 3.63%|
|Moncef Marzouki||Movement Party||100,338 - 2.97%|
|Mehdi Jomaa||Tunisian Alternative||61,371 - 1.82%|
|Mongi Rahoui||Popular Front||27,355 - 0.81%|
|Hechmi Hamdi||Current of Love||25,284 - 0.75%|
|Hamma Hammami||Independent||23,252 - 0.69%|
|Elyes Fakhfakh||Ettakatol||11,532 - 0.34%|
|Saïd Aïdi||Beni Watani||10,198 - 0.30%|
|Omar Mansour||Independent||10,160 - 0.30%|
|Mohsen Marzouk||Machrouu Tounes||7,376 - 0.22%|
|Hamadi Jebali||Independent||7,364 - 0.22%|
|Néji Jalloul||Independent||7,166 - 0.21%|
|Abid Briki||Tunisia Forward||5,799 - 0.17%|
|Selma Elloumi Rekik||Al Amal||5,093 - 0.15%|
|Mohamed Esghaier Norui||Independent||4,598 - 0.14%|
|Slim Riahi||New National Union||4,472 - 0.13%|
|Hatem Boulabiar||Independent||3,704 - 0.11%|