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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- 11,107,800 million (World Bank 2015 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- Unity government
- Last Elections:
- 21 December 2014 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2018 (parliamentary elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Forum Démocratique pour le Travail et les Libertés (FDTL)
Government of Unity and New Cabinet
In the summer of 2016 Prime Minister Habib Essid and his cabinet were dismissed after a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the Bardo National Museum and the mass shooting at a tourist resort near Sousse, he had lost the trust of the parliament. PM Essid was unable to resolve growing economic problems (partly resulting from the declining tourist industry), but also proposed to close down 80 mosques promoting radical Islam as a counter-terrorist action. In August 2016 Essid was replaced by Youssef Chahed. Chahed, former minister of Local Affairs and senior member of Nidaa Tounes, was asked by the President to form the new government of unity. He is a technocrat, able to maintain the idea of national unity but also the youngest prime minister, hoping to appeal to youth. His young age has also been a point of criticism for the opposition, suggesting he might show a lack of experience. His alleged family ties with the president could also be seen as a problem, as nepotism was characteristic under the rule of Ben Ali. In forming a new cabinet, important posts such as Ministers of Interior, Defence, Exterior were filled by the old cabinet, but other ministers and all of the state secretaries were replaced. Among them were five younger than 35, two were former members of the UGTT and eight of them are women.
2014 new constitution and interim government
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. 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.
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.
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.
Political situation under Ben Ali
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.
On 26 October 2014 parliamentary elections were held in Tunisia, which established a 217-seat Assembly of the Representatives of the People as adopted by the new constitution. In total, 69 percent of the Tunisian population turned up for voting. The biggest change as a result of these elections for the Tunisian parliament is that the Nidaa Tounes party, a secular party, has taken the lead in parliament with 85 seats, which is 39 percent of the votes. Thus, beating the previous dominating party, the Ennahda Movement. The Ennahda party won 69 seats (32 percent of the votes), losing 16 seats compared to 2011, and hereby running as a close second. This gives the Nidaa Tounes party the right to name a prime minister and form a coalition government. However, the party split after Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, the son of President Béji Caïd Essebsi, became Executive Director in January 2016. As a result, Nidaa Tounes holds 62 seats as the second largest party currently, therefore losing its top spot in parliament to the Ennahda Movement. Mohsen Marzouk, former special advisor of the President and member of Nidaa Tunis, founded the new party Machrou Tounes, holding 24 seats in the Assembly.
About 13,000 candidates competed for a seat in the 217-strong National Assembly of Tunisia. All candidates pledged to focus on crippling poverty and unemployment, trying to make an end to Tunisia’s social unrest over the weak economy, violence blamed on Islamists, and attacks by militant groups.
The former coalition parties and the Popular Petition have received the biggest losses. The Congress for the Republic went from 29 to 4 seats, the Popular Petition went from 26 to 2, and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL) lost all seats. These former coalition parties have been punished for their poor results during their governing time. The losses for both Ennahda and the central left-wing parties are due to the political crisis resulting from the murder on two secular politicians and the poor results of the stagnating economic conditions, unemployment and deteriorating safety conditions in the country. However, smaller parties, such as the Free Patriotic Union, the Popular Front, and the Afek Tounes party, emerged noticeably. The Free Patriotic Union won 15 seats and now have 16 seats in parliament, the Popular Front went from 4 to 15 seats, and the Afek Tounes party went from 3 to 8 seats.
The leader of Ennahda, Lotfi Zitoun, has accepted this result and congratulated the winner. The result was hailed internationally for its democratic viability as the only one of the major Arab Spring uprisings that is not convulsed by instability and turmoil. President Barack Obama declared the result as a “milestone” since the parliamentary elections in Tunisia were free, fair and non-violent. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said it was an example of “why Tunisia remains a beacon of hope, not only to the Tunisian people, but to the region and the world”.
Official election results
|Free Patriotic Union||140,873||16|
|*Congress for the Republic||69,794||4|
|* Popular Petition||40,826||2|
On 23 January 2015 Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid proposed a new minority government that excluded most of the major parties, such as Islamist and leftist parties. The Nidaa Tounes party originally promised to form a broad government coalition and it had not ruled out forming a coalition with the Ennahda Movement. However, the 24 new ministers presented appeared to come from only two parties that had not enough seats to survive a no-confidence voting. The proposed cabinet included ten ministers from Nidaa Tounes and three from the Free Patriotic Union Party. On 26 January 2015, Essid announced that new negotiations have started over his cabinet after most political parties said they would oppose his initial choice of ministers in a parliamentary vote.
As a result Essid came up with a new cabinet-proposal, which was approved on 5 February 2015. This cabinet is a broad unity coalition that includes the Ennahda Movement. The coalition also includes the populist Free Patriotic Union party and the liberal Afek Tounes Party.
A new cabinet was named by new Prime Minister and member of Nidaa Tounes, Youssef Chahed, on 6 September, replacing 13 ministers of the 27-member government. Among the new ministers he appointed three former ministers who also served under the rule of ousted President Ben Ali. Ridha Chalgoum was restored as finance minister. Lofti Braham, like Chalgoum member of Nidaa Tounes, was named as interior minister. Taoufik Rajhi, one of Chahed’s economic advisors and member of the Islamist Ennahda Movement, was appointed to the new minister post of economic reforms.
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 were held on 23 November 2014. According to official results, Beji Caid Essebsi, founder of the Nidaa Tounes party, won this first round of voting by receiving 39.46 percent of the votes. However, as Essebsi ran short of the required overall majority of 50 percent of the votes, a second round of voting was required.
On 21 December, the second round of voting was held. Official results, announced on 22 December, showed that the frontrunner Beji Caid Essebsi won the second round, and therefore Tunisia’s first free presidential elections, with 55.68 percent of the votes. His main rival, Moncef Marzouki, became second with 44.32 percent of the votes. On 31 December Essebsi was inaugurated officially as the President of Tunisia.
Both Essebsi and Marzouki were trying to convince Tunisian voters that these presidential elections were the chance to break with the old regime. However, both candidates were accusing their opponent of returning to the old regime that will set off the country’s revolution. Essebsi stirred the competition up by stating that only he could defend Tunisia against the threat of extremism and not Marzouki. Essebsi stated that “the people who voted for Marzouki were the Islamists…that is to say Ennahda members…but also jihadist Salafists.” These comments of Essebsi resulted in large protests in southern Tunisian cities – who largely voted for Marzouki – and calling Essebsi’s comments insulting and divisive. As a response, Al-Bakoush, secretary-general of Essebsi’s political party, accused Marzouki's Congress for the Republic Party of "attempting to divide the country between the north and the south" and warned of an "unprecedented polarisation" in Tunisia's southern cities. The head of the EU observer mission, Annemie Neyts-Uytterbroeck, stated that the official results of the first round of Tunisia’s presidential elections were “pluralist and transparent.” She also said that “the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly was guaranteed.”
Shortly after the announcement of the official results, demonstrations and small riots emerged in several southern towns in Tunisia in protest against Essebsi. The protestors argued that these presidential elections have resulted in the return of an old guard of Ben Ali’s era, since Essebsi was a former Ben Ali official for five decades. These critics see the appointment of Essebsi as the Tunisian President as a setback to democracy that resulted from the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. However, many others supported the newly elected president and hoped that Essebsi would contribute to finalizing Tunisia’s road to democracy. The president himself commented that he was “committed to be president of all Tunisian men and women without exclusion” and that “there is no future without consensus among all parties and social movements.” Also U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Essebsi on his victory, but also Tunisia as a whole in achieving democratization this far: “Tunisia has provided a shining example to the region and the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process.”
Official election results
|Candidates||Votes first round||Votes second round|
|Beij Caid Essebsi (Nidaa Tounes)||1,289,384 (39.46%)||1,731,529 (55.68%)|
|Moncef Marzouki (Congress for the Republic)||1,092,418 (33.43%)||1,092,418 (44.32%)|
|Hamma Hammami (Popular Front)||255,529 (7.82%)|
|Hechmi Hamdi (Current of Love)||187,923 (5.75%)|
|Slim Riahi (Free Patriotic Union)||181,407 (5.55%)|
|Kamel Morjane (National Destourian Initiative)||41,614 (1.27%)|
|Ahmed Nejib Chebbi (Republican Party)||34,025 (1.04%)|