Summary of Day 8, Friday 10th January: Assembly Debates Legislative Powers and nears the halfway mark on the new Constitution
The plenary kicked off at 11:15 on the morning of Friday 10th January, launching straight into the middle of a vote on a proposed amendment to add a new article to the end of Chapter Two, protecting the right to work and “economic initiative” or free enterprise, proposed by Fattoum Attia (Ennahdha Party). There had been a heated debate on this amendment the previous evening, when various deputies had argued against it as an attempt to introduce liberal economic policies, while the proposing deputy, Attia, argued that this issue was at the heart of the revolution and that bureaucratic and other obstacles prevented citizens from being able to set up their own enterprises and economic projects. The amendment failed to pass, with 93 votes for, 27 abstentions and 42 against.
229: requests to attend the constitution debate from civil society groups
262: guests attending the constitution debate since it began
13: number of articles adopted
2: number of articles that failed to pass (including 49 which was subsequently adopted)
3: Number of unanimously adopted articles
168: Average number of voting deputies per article
149.6: Average number of deputies voting “yes” per article
89%: Average percentage of voting deputies voting “yes” per article
42.5%: percentage of articles adopted by end of Day 8 out of all articles to be debated
Discussion then moved onto Chapter Three of the constitution on legislative powers. The plenary adopted the title, “Legislative Power” – then moved to article 49 on legislative power, which states that “the people exercise legislative power through their representatives in the Chamber of Representatives of the People or through referenda”. A proposed amendment to amend the name of the Chamber to the “People’s Chamber” to avoid the association with the title used by the Ben Ali regime for the defunct “Chamber of Deputies” he appointed, was passed. On a first vote on article 49, it was not adopted, with only 105 votes for, 16 abstentions and 55 against meaning that it did not gain the absolute majority (109) required for an article to be adopted. However, when the plenary returned in the afternoon, a second vote was taken by virtue of article 93 of the Internal Regulations, and the article was adopted with 135 for, 7 abstentions and 7 against.
Articles 50 to 63 were voted on, relating to the term, powers and composition of the Chamber of Deputies, including its seat, financial and administrative independence, eligibility of voters in legislative elections, eligibility for membership of the Chamber, term, rights of the opposition and power of legislative initiative. Of particular note is the proposed amendment to lower the minimum age of parliamentary candidates from 23 to 18, which was rejected.
Of particular note was the adoption of the consensual amendment to give rights to the opposition to have “presidency of the financial affairs committee and role of rapporteur within the foreign affairs committee” under article 59. The Article also gave the opposition the right to form and head an investigation parliamentary committee per year.
A very heated debate took place over two proposed amendments seeking to prevent the practice of deputies changing their political affiliation for which they were elected, or so-called “parliamentary tourism”. Fayza Kidoussi (Tayyar alMahabba bloc) proposed an amendment to article 60 to this effect, arguing that it was vital to protect the free exercise by voters of their political choices through voting. Samir Bettaieb (Masar Party) argued against, that once deputies are elected, they are masters of their own choices and do not represent parties. The amendment was rejected. Another attempt to introduce this restriction was made in a proposed amendment to article 54 but discussions were so tense that the chair of the session, Deputy Speaker Mehrezia Labidi, postponed the vote till the following day in order to allow voting to take place in a calm atmosphere. The postponement provoked near-hysteria in one deputy, Aymen Zouaghi (Tayyar alMahabba – who had proposed the amendment) with the plenary getting delayed for several minutes while calm was restored. Discussion then moved to article 61 instead, regarding the power to propose laws. Tayyar al-Mahabba was the party most keen to pass the amendment since it was the party most affected by the phenomenon of deputies changing blocs, losing most of its deputies to either the new opposition party Nidaa Tounes or to “independents”. Other Assembly blocs which were themselves formed out of this change in parties were keen not to pass the amendment. See this helpful diagram prepared by Al Bawsala, which shows, what it calls the “Market” in the Assembly, with all parties and blocs experiencing departures by deputies except Ennahdha Party and the Workers’ Party (PTT).
An announcement was made that the sorting of candidates for the new Commission for the Prevention of Torture had been carried out.
The list of candidates for the representatives of blocs on the committee for sorting of candidates for the new Commission for Truth and Dignity was also announced, and is as follows: Oussama Al Saghir, Kamel Ben Romdhane and Kamel Saadaoui for Ennahdha Party; Chokri Kastalli and Rebah Kheraifi for the Democratic Bloc; Nafissa Wafa Marzouki for Ettakattol Party; Nour Ben Hassen for CPR; Brahim Hamdi for Wafa; Karim Krifa and Ahmed Essefi on behalf of independents.
Chapter Two: “Legislative Power”
Adopted with 151 for, 0 Abstentions and 2 against
“The people exercise legislative power through their representatives in the Chamber of Representatives of the People or through referenda.”
Proposed amendment to amend title of the Chamber to the “People’s Chamber” passed with 111 for, 11 abstentions and 41 against.
Amended text of article 49 adopted
Final text of article as adopted: “The people exercise legislative power through their representatives in the People’s Chamber or through referenda.”
Draft: “The seat of the Chamber of Deputies shall be located in Tunis and its suburbs. In the event of exceptional circumstances, the Chamber may hold its sessions in any other place in the Republic.”
Unamended article 50 adopted with 150 votes for, 4 abstentions and 3 against.
Draft: “The Chamber of the Deputies of the People shall enjoy financial and administrative independence within the framework of the state budget.
The Chamber of Deputies shall set its rules of procedure and ratify them by an absolute majority of the members of the Chamber.
The state shall provide to the Chamber sufficient human and material resources to allow representatives to fulfill their obligations.”
Proposed amendment to add “Deputies undertake to fulfill their duties for which they were elected and to attend plenary sessions and committee meetings and to participate in voting”, by Samir Ben Amor of the CPR, was rejected, with 30 votes for, 30 abstentions and 111 against.
Proposed amendment to add “The Chamber of Deputies shall set its budget and ratify it with an absolute majority of its members” as a third paragraph and to add “The state shall provide to the Chamber sufficient financial resources to meet its budget” into the final paragraph rejected, with 89 for, 11 abstentions and 73 against.
Unamended article 51 adopted with 147 for, 10 abstentions and 13 against.
Draft: “Running for membership of the Chamber of Deputies shall be a right of every voter who has held Tunisian nationality for at least ten years and is no younger than 23 years of age on the day of candidacy, provided that they are not subject to any form of exclusion from candidacy specified by the law.”
Proposed amendment to reduce the minimum age to 20 years rejected, with 99 for, 18 abstentions and 66 against.
Proposed amendment to reduce the minimum age to 18 years rejected, with 80 for, 41 abstentions and 63 against.
Proposed amendment to remove the “for at least 10 years” to the nationality condition rejected.
Unamended article 52 adopted with 147 for, 9 abstentions and 23 against.
Draft: “Every Tunisian citizen aged over eighteen years shall be entitled to vote in accordance with the conditions set by the Election Law.”
Unamended article 53 adopted with 158 for, 3 abstentions and 0 against.
Draft: “Members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be elected in a secret, direct, free, fair and transparent general elections in accordance with the Election Law.”
Proposed amendment to add “The Election Law shall guarantee the right to vote and representation in the Chamber of Deputies for Tunisians abroad” passed with 152 for, 15 abstentions and 4 against.
Proposed amendment to add “The Election Law shall establish the legal consequences of a change by a member of the Chamber of Deputies of his or her political affiliation or electoral bloc in whose name he or she stood for election”
Amended version of article 54 adopted with 165 for, 6 abstentions and 0 against.
Final version of article 54: “Members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be elected in a secret, direct, free, fair and transparent general elections in accordance with the Election Law. The Election Law shall guarantee the right to vote and representation in the Chamber of Deputies for Tunisians abroad.”
Draft: “The Chamber of Deputies shall be elected for five years, within the last sixty days of the term of their mandate.
In the event of failure to hold the elections as a result of imminent danger, the mandate of the Chamber shall be extended by law.”
Unamended article 55 adopted with 163 for, 2 abstentions and 1 against.
Draft: “The Chamber of Deputies shall hold an ordinary session starting in October of every year and ending in July, provided that the first session of the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies shall begin during the fifteen-day period following the announcement of the final results of the elections, by invitation from the Speaker of the preceding Chamber.
In the event that the beginning of the first session of the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies coincides with the recess thereof, an extraordinary session shall be held until the granting of a vote of confidence to the government.
The Chamber of Deputies shall, during its recess, convene an extraordinary session upon the request of the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, or one-third of the members in order to look into a specified agenda.”
Unamended article 56 adopted with 159 for, 4 abstentions and 8 against.
Draft: “Every member in the Chamber of Deputies shall, upon assuming his or her functions, swear the following oath: “I do solemnly swear to God that I will work to serve the nation with sincerity, that I will abide by the provisions of the Constitution and total loyalty to Tunisia.”
Unamended article 57 adopted with 172 for, 3 abstentions and 0 against.
Draft: “The Chamber of Deputies shall elect a Speaker from amongst its members in its first session.
The Chamber of Deputies shall form standing and special committees. Their responsibilities shall be established and distributed on the basis of proportional representation.
The Chamber of Deputies may form investigation committees. All authorities shall assist such committees in undertaking their missions.”
Proposed amendment to remove “established and” from the second paragraph was rejected with 57 for, 28 abstentions and 92 against.
Unamended article 58 adopted with 153 for, 10 abstentions and 15 against.
Draft: “The opposition is an integral element of the Chamber of Deputies and shall have the rights that enable it to undertake its tasks in parliamentary work. The opposition is guaranteed an appropriate and effective representation in all the Chamber’s structures and internal and external activities, and it shall have the right to establish and head an investigation committee per year. Its duties include active and constructive participation in parliamentary work.”
A Consensus Committee amendment to add “It shall be given the presidency of the financial affairs committee or the foreign affairs committee and the role of rapporteur within one of the two committees” was passed with 128 for, 25 Abstentions and 30 against.
Amended article 59 with 138 for, 20 abstentions and 20 against.
Final version of article 59 as adopted: “The opposition is an integral element of the Chamber of Deputies and shall have the rights that enable it to undertake its tasks in parliamentary work. The opposition is guaranteed an appropriate and effective representation in all the Chamber’s structures and internal and external activities, and it shall be given the presidency of the financial affairs committee or the foreign affairs committee and the role of rapporteur within one of the two committees. It shall have the right to establish and head an investigation committee per year. Its duties include active and constructive participation in parliamentary work.”
Draft: “The process of voting in the Chamber of Deputies shall be done in person and may not be delegated.”
Proposed amendment to add “To protect the rights of voters, membership of the Chamber shall fall automatically where the deputy changes his or her affiliation on which he or she was elected. This rule applies as follows:
- If he or she changes his or her political affiliation, or, in the case of a deputy standing on an independent list, if he or she abandons the political bloc in whose name he or she stood for the elections.
- If he or she is excluded from his or her party according to its internal regulations or the regulations of the electoral list.
- If he or she changes from representing an independent list not affiliated to any political party or bloc and becomes affiliated to a political party or bloc.
Amendment rejected with 45 for, 29 abstentions and 97 against.
Unamended article 60 adopted with 169 for, 4 abstentions and 3 against.
Draft: “Legislative initiative shall be exercised through proposals for laws by no less than ten deputies, or through draft laws by the President of the Republic, or by the Prime Minister.
The head of the government is exclusively competent to present draft laws relating to the ratification of treaties and the draft budget law.
Draft laws shall be given priority.”
Proposed amendment to add “It shall be possible for draft laws to be proposed by way of a popular petition signed by no fewer than the equivalent of 15% of voters registered in civil or electoral registers” rejected with 28 for, 24 abstentions and 116 against.
Proposed amendment to add “It shall be possible for a tenth of voters registered on electoral registers to propose a draft law composed of articles to the Chamber of Deputies. It shall be possible for a sixth of voters registered on electoral registers to propose a draft law composed of articles and request that it be put to a referendum” rejected with 44 for, 20 abstentions and 90 against.
Unamended article 61 adopted with 154 for, 3 abstentions and 0 against.
Draft: “Proposed laws or amendments presented by deputies shall not be admitted if their ratification would cause prejudice to the state’s financial balance as determined by the budget law.”
Article 62 failed to pass, with 100 for, 9 abstentions and 57 against.
Draft: “The Chamber of Deputies shall, by an absolute majority of its members, ratify draft organic laws, and shall, by a majority of the members present, ratify normal draft laws, provided that such a majority is no less than one-third of the members of the Chamber.
No draft organic law shall be presented to the Chamber of Deputies for deliberation unless a fifteen-day period has passed since the date of referral of such law to the competent committee.”
Proposed amendment to add “proposals where draft laws are proposed” rejected, with 40 for, 24 abstentions and 100 against.
Unamended article 63 adopted with 146 for, 10 abstentions and 3 against.