Tunisia Formal Country Structure

Tunisia's first freely elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisia is divided into 24 governorates. The Ben Ali government had been promoting the decentralization of the administration since 1989, but created dual structures that ensured the control of the local authorities by the Ministry of the Interior. The new constitution provides for decentralization and greater financial independence for the regions. With the first free local elections in the history of the country in May 2018 and a law to restructure the local authorities, the first steps were taken.

Constitution and separation of powers

The new constitution, which was passed on January 26, 2014, introduces a semi-presidential system. The new form of government is intended to guarantee that neither the president nor the parliament can gain too much power and override democratic structures.

The constitution of the Second Republic guarantees better control of the various powers through a stronger separation of powers and the establishment of a constitutional court. Equality for women was also enshrined. They are also to be politically strengthened by introducing a parity list for local elections. There was heated debate in the debate about the role that religion should play in the future. Finally, the MPs agreed on an often schizophrenic text that guarantees both the civil character of the state, freedom of belief and conscience, and the protection of the sacred.

The constitution has been in force since its adoption, but not all of them have been incorporated into designated bodies, such as the Constitutional Court. The adaptation of the Tunisian legal texts to the new constitution will be one of the most important tasks of the new parliament for the new, five-year legislative period (2014-2019).

It took the assembly more than two years, instead of the originally planned one, to finalize and adopt the text – critically viewed by the non-governmental organization Al Bawsala. In June 2013 the Constituent Assembly presented a fourth and final draft. This was to be discussed by the MPs from July – but only a general discussion of the draft took place before the political crisis was exacerbated again by the murder of Mohamed Brahmi and the work of the assembly was initially suspended. Only after months of negotiations and the resignation of Ali Larayedh’s government did the constitutional assembly vote on the constitution in January 2014.

According to computerannals, the former Tunisian constitution dates from 1959 and has been changed several times since it came into force. In theory, even according to the old text, the legislative, executive and judicial branches were independent. However, as head of government, head of state and commander-in-chief, the president had extensive rights and (with the help of the secret service and the police) de facto controlled all three areas.

Elections 2014

In the autumn of 2014 in Tunisia for the first time free and regular found parliamentary and presidential elections held. These were actually planned for the end of 2012, but were delayed considerably as the constitution and the new electoral law were only passed in early 2014.

In the parliamentary elections on October 26, 2014, the newly founded Nidaa Tounes party won a relative majority with 85 of the 217 seats, followed by Ennahdha. The Islamists had to pay the price for two years in government. While the formerly strongest force in the Constitutional Assembly with 69 seats still received a good result, the votes for the former coalition partners CPR and Ettakatol fell massively (4 and 1 seat respectively according to the preliminary official final result). The heterogeneous party, made up of trade union members, social democrats and conservatives, is also under public pressure because there are many members of the old regime in its ranks.

For the presidential elections, which took place on November 23, 2014, 27 candidates ran in the first ballot, including a woman, Judge Kalthoum Kannou. None of the candidates was able to achieve an absolute majority in the first ballot. The runoff election on December 21, 2014 was won by Nidaa Tounes’ chairman, Beji Caid Essebsi, with 55.68% of the votes cast against his challenger, interim president Moncef Marzouki. The result confirms the tendencies of the parliamentary elections. Essebsi was able to benefit above all from his political experience, which many voters cited as a decisive reason for voting for him despite his ties to the old regime and his advanced age. Essebsi was under Habib Bourguiba among other things Interior and Defense Minister. After the latter was overthrown and Ben Ali came to power, he was President of Parliament from 1990 to 1991, but never belonged to the inner circle of power. However, many members of the former Ben Ali party are represented in his Nidaa Tounes party.

After Essebsi’s death on July 27, 2019, President of the Parliament Mohamed Ennacer temporarily took over the presidency. According to the constitution, he may not remain in office for more than 90 days. The presidential election scheduled for November was brought forward to September. The parliamentary elections will take place in early October as planned.

After tough negotiations, Nidaa Tounes formed a coalition government in February 2015 with representatives of the economically liberal party Afek Tounes, the populist UPL and Ennahdha. Until July 2016, Habib Essid was the head of government. After pressure from President Essebsi, who criticized the government for not working efficiently, he put the vote of confidence, which he lost on July 30, 2016. A new seven-party government led by 40-year-old Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (Nidaa Tounes) has been in power since the end of August 2016.

Tunisia's first freely elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi