Summary of Day 3: Chapter 1 adopted amid disputes and threats of withdrawal
After achieving a relativey swift pace of discussion on Saturday, Sunday brought very little progress on the discussion of the draft constitution and the spectre of deadlock once again in the Assembly. The announcement by the Speaker of the Assembly, Mustapha ben Jaafar, of a dispute between two deputies launched a polemic that saw a number of opposition deputies withdraw from the Assembly in protest.
Monji Rahoui, a deputy for the Popular Front (a left-wing alliance of Communist and other far-left parties) expressed concern and dismay at a statement by Habib Ellouze, deputy for Ennahdha Party the previous day to a radio station in which Ellouze, when asked about the debate that had taken place around article 1 of the constitution, had referred to Rahoui as having “animosity towards Islam” and that he “exposed himself, and the Tunisian people would act accordingly”.
Rahoui demanded an apology from Ellouze for the remarks, which he said had resulted in him receiving death threats. The Interior Ministry issued a statement clarifying that an “academic and political figure” had reported that “a foreign woman” had posted the information about the targeting of Rahoui on his facebook page. Ellouze claimed his remarks should not be understood in a derogratory manner. The chamber witnessed charged statements by various deputies, resulting in Ben Jaafar adjourning the session for a meeting to find a resolution to the dispute.
As a condition for returning to the plenary, a number of deputies demanded a re-vote on the amendment to Article 6 rejected the previous day, which had proposed the criminalization of accusations of apostasy and incitement to hatred and violence. A discussion followed regarding the legality of returning to an already adopted article, and the proposal to use Article 93 of the internal regulations, which allow the General Rapporteur to re-visit an adopted article. A number of deputies insisted that if the amendment was not passed, they would not return to participate in the planned voting session on Sunday evening to elect members of the Independent Electoral Commission – which would mean that the Commission may not be elected by the deadline of 14 January as agreed within the National Dialogue, thus holding up the transition to the new government. A meeting of the heads of Assembly blocs was held, and blocs held their own meetings. After several hours the plenary was reconvened to discuss an amended version of the amendment.
A compromise was announced that the amendment to article 6 would be put forward once again for voting. The General Rapporteur Habib Khedhr announced the proposed amendment on the basis of Article 93 of the Internal regulations. Some independent deputies protested the absence of a debate on the amendment on the basis that they had not been part of the discussions between the blocs and had not had the opportunity to express their views. The Chair of the session, Deputy Speaker Mehrezia Labidi, gave the floor to three independent deputies to express their views. Independent deputy, Aymen Zouaghi, spoke against the proposed amendment, arguing that criminalizing calling others “apostates” means that one choosing to be an atheist, in exercise of their freedom of conscience, cannot be called an atheist by another for fear of being criminalised. The plenary passed to the vote, and the proposed amendment to article 6 was adopted with a comfortable majority – 131 for, 25 against, 20 abstentions.
Amended article 6:
“The state protects religion, guarantees freedom of belief and conscience religious rituals, protects sanctities, and guarantees the impartiality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan use. Takfeer [calling another Muslim an unbeliever] and incitement to violence are prohibited.”
Amendment to art 6 passed: 131 for, 25 against, 20 abstentions.
Amended article 6 passed: 131 for, 23 against, 28 abstentions.
The vote was followed by protests by a number of deputies who wished to also re-visit a rejected amendment (by Aymen Marzouk, from al-Aman party) to Article 12 the previous day which sought to institute an obligation on the state to introduce positive discrimination to promote regional development and achieve balance between the regions. The issue of greater equality and wealth distribution between Tunisian regions lies at the heart of the revolution, which had started in a deprived inner region, Sidi Bouzid, where unemployment, illiteracy and poverty rates far higher than coastal regions. The Rapporteur responded that he had not received any signed request to activate Article 93 in relation to this amendment, and that he could only re-open it if a petition is received from the heads of all the assembly blocs. Agreement was reached to re-visit Article 12 at the next plenary if a signed petition is received.
Discussion of the remaining articles in Chapter One then resumed, with uncontroversial articles 16, 17, 18 and 19 passed with a number of amendments put forward by the Consensus Committee.
Articles 16-19 in their draft and final adopted versions are set out below:
Draft: “Only the state may establish the Armed Forces, National Security Forces and any other forces according to the law and to serve the public interest.”
Article 16 adopted, unamended: 170 for, 0 against, 4 abstentions
Draft: “The national army is an armed military force based on discipline that is composed and organized in accordance with the law. The army must defend the nation, its independence and its territorial integrity. It must remain entirely impartial. The national army supports the civil authorities in accordance with the provisions set out by law.”
Proposed amendment by the Consensus Committee to add in “The national army is a republican army and is an armed military force based on discipline…”.
Amendment passed: 144 for, 18 against, 26 abstentions.
“The national army is a republican army and is an armed military force based on discipline that is composed and organized in accordance with the law. The army must defend the nation, its independence and its territorial integrity. It must remain entirely impartial. The national army supports the civil authorities in accordance with the provisions set out by law.”
Amended article 17 adopted: 154 with, 20 abstentions, 6 against
4: number of articles adopted (including re-adopted amended article 6)
5: number of proposed amendments discussed
75%: average % of “yes” votes in favour of articles in Chapter One
4.2%: average % of “no” votes against articles in Chapter One
3: number of articles in Chapter One which were adopted but fell short of 2/3 majority
Draft: “The national security forces are charged with maintaining security and public order, protecting individuals, institutions and property, and law enforcement while ensuring respect for freedoms and total impartiality.”
Amendment proposed by the Consensus Committee to add “is a republican security force” passed with 152 for, 18 abstentions and 12 against.
Final version adopted: “The national security force is a republican security force charged with maintaining security and public order, protecting individuals, institutions and property, and law enforcement while ensuring respect for freedoms and total impartiality.”
Amended article 18 adopted: 168 for, 11 abstentions, 6 against
“International agreements approved and ratified by the Chamber of Deputies shall be superior to laws and inferior to the Constitution.”
Article 19 adopted: 171 with, 7 abstentions, 0 against