Tuesday 2nd December sees the opening of Tunisia’s first permanent parliamentary assembly, elected in the country’s second free and fair legislative elections on 26th October. The new assembly replaces the National Constituent Assembly, which was elected in 2011 to write Tunisia’s new Constitution and oversee legislation.
Over 1300 electoral lists competed in the legislative elections in 33 constituencies for the 217 seats in the new Assembly. The Assembly’s composition is as follows:
Nidaa Tounes – 86
Ennahdha – 69
Union Patriotique Libre – 16
Front Populaire – 15
Afek Tounes – 8
Congrès pour la République – 4
Al Moubadara (Initiative Nationale Destourienne – 3
Tayyar Democrati (Courant Démocratique)- 3
Tayyar Al Mahabba (Courant de l’amour) – 2
Al Jomhouri (Parti Républicain) – 1
Tahalof Democrati (Alliance Démocratique) – 1
Harakat Democratiyyin Ijtimaiyyin (Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes)– 1
Saout al Fallahin (La Voix des Agriculteurs)– 1
Nidaa Tounsiyyin bil Kharej (Appel des Tunisiens à l’étranger)– 1
Nidaa Al Jreed (Appel Jreed) – 1
Radd Itibar – 1
The Assembly session will be opened by Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the outgoing President of the National Constituent Assembly, who will then hand over to the oldest deputy to chair the rest of the session, until a new President of the Assembly is elected.
Election of the President of the Assembly
The procedures for electing a new President of the Assembly are as follows: the interim President of the Assembly will announce the opening of candidatures for the President position. A committee will be established composed of five deputies, representing the composition of the Assembly. This committee will be in charge of managing the voting process, in which deputies will each cast a vote for a candidate. If a candidate obtains an absolute majority of votes (109 or above), he or she will be declared President of the Assembly. In the case of no candidate obtaining an absolute majority, a second round of voting will take place with only the candidates who obtained the highest number of votes in the first round.
Negotiations have started among parties in the Assembly over the formation of new parliamentary blocs and the new government. As no one party has a majority, Nidaa Tounes is expected to form a coalition government with a number of other parties in the Assembly. A number of smaller parties, Afek Tounes, Al Moubadara and independents voiced their support for Beji Caid Essebsi, head of Nidaa Tounes, in the presidential elections, which indicates their possible inclusion in a parliamentary bloc and perhaps a coalition government.
Essebsi, announced in a television interview on Sunday that his party will present a candidate for Prime Minister and President of the Assembly in the Assembly’s opening session.
Powers of the Assembly
The powers and functions of the new Assembly are set out in Chapter Three of the Constitution. The Assembly exercises legislative powers, approves international treaties, and monitors the executive and judicial branches and holds them accountable through the following powers:
- Government – holding members of Government accountable through written and oral questions, motions of censure and withdrawal of confidence by absolute majority. The Assembly also has powers to examine, amend and pass or reject the annual state budget law, which determines the state’s resources and expenditure.
- President of the Republic – the Assembly can remove the President by way of a vote by two-thirds of its members.
- Judiciary – examination of the annual reports submitted by the Supreme Judicial Council and other branches of the judiciary in plenary sessions; appointment of a third of the Constitutional Court
- Constitutional Commissions – the Assembly elects the members of all five constitutional commissions and has powers to examine annual reports submitted to it by these commissions.
The opening of the new Assembly symbolizes the progress made by Tunisia in its democratic transition, in managing to hold the first free and fair regular parliamentary and presidential elections in its history, with all political actors accepting the results. Having in place a powerful elected permanent representative assembly, with powers to oversee all branches of government, signifies a significant shift from the country’s situation before 2011, when it was dominated by highly concentrated presidential power and only two presidents for over 50 years. However, the democratic transition is far from over, as numerous reforms and challenges lie ahead in the areas of institutional reform, transitional justice, economic reform and security.