Monday 7th April saw the opening of the plenary debate and vote on the electoral law in a session attended by 123 members of the National Constituent Assembly. The draft electoral law is based on proposals by a group of civil society organisations, including Chahed Observatory, ATIDE, Youth without Borders, the Foundation for the Future and the Centre for Citizenship.
The plenary session comes after over a month of discussions within the General Legislative Committee of the Assembly, which began its discussions of the law two weeks after the ratification of the Constitution in January.
The Electoral Law in Brief
The electoral law provides the framework for the electoral process as a whole from the stage of voter registration until the announcement of the results. It sets rules for all the stages and procedures relating to any party, entity or authority involved in the electoral process, defining the powers of each of those parties.
Proposals Submitted by Civil Society
On 13 February, the General Legislative Committee of the Assembly began discussions on the electoral law proposals submitted by a group of associations and civil society organizations. Two proposals were submitted to the Bureau of the National Constituent Assembly – the first was by ATIDE and it focused on the registration process and eligibility conditions without addressing the electoral process as a whole. The second proposal, which was adopted by the, covered all the steps of the electoral process from voter registration, the start the electoral campaign and its monitoring, the voting process and sorting of ballots, through to the announcement of the results and deadlines for appeals and their determination. This proposal was presented by a group of organizations, namely the Centre for Citizenship, Youth Without Borders and the Foundation for the Future.
The second proposal, made up of 167 articles, focused on technical points and sought to address the deficiencies of Decree 35 that sets out the powers of the Higher Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE).
The General Legislative Committee Stage
The General Legislative Committee first examined the proposals article by article, collecting opinions and feedback from the Committee members about the provisions. The Committee then held open hearings with various stakeholders who were invited to give their views on the proposals, the electoral process and lessons learned from the last elections. The Rapporteur on the electoral law, Hanene Sassi (Independent) and the Deputy Rapporteur, Sana Mirsni (Ennahdha) compiled a report on the points of contention to be discussed further in the Committee.
The Committee held an open hearing with civil society organizations that had submitted an electoral law proposal to the Assembly. Deputies and the civil society representatives discussed general principles and details of the electoral process, particularly around voter registration, campaign financing, electoral thresholds, and quotas for women and youth candidates.
Another open hearing brought the Committee together with the ISIE to discuss the experience and important role it played in the last elections, and its role in the future. The Committee agreed in particular on the need to respect the deadline for holding elections set by the Constitution.
The Higher Authority for Audiovisual Communication, known as the “HAICA”, was also invited to participate in an open hearing to give its views on the provisions in the electoral law relating to media, and its role and powers in monitoring the electoral campaign and investigating any abuses by media outlets, parties or candidates.
Discussions focused on the HAICA’s powers and mechanisms for monitoring and issuing and enforcing decisions during the electoral process.
The Committee examined the possibility of inserting articles on the powers and mechanisms of the HAICA; although Decrees 115 and 116, which set the powers of the HAICA, define its functions and its relationship to media institutions, they do not define them in relation to individuals. The electoral law thus needs to include provisions on the HAICA’s powers in relation to individuals to allow it to address candidates or individual actors in the electoral process.
The Committee also invited the Court of Auditors to discuss its role in the process of financial accountability and monitoring the financing of campaigns and the electoral process as a whole. The President of the Court set out the challenges the Court encountered in the last elections, and how to avoid these in the upcoming elections, in addition to the problems state institutions faced in recovering sums of money owed by many electoral lists and parties that should have been paid back to the state and which have still not been recovered since the last elections.
The Committee also invited representatives of international associations representing the Tunisian diaspora, who make up approximately 10% of Tunisian citizens. These associations largely rejected the proposal to unify the 10 constituencies outside Tunisia in the last elections into one constituency. It was agreed that the proposal to change the constituencies was impractical due to the short length of time remaining before the elections.
The Committee also held a hearing with experts from the United Nations Development Program (PNUD), the International Organization for Elections and the Council of Europe Venice Commission, and experts from Palestine and Jordan to listen to their views on the proposal and their comments and suggestions.
Vote in the General Legislative Committee
After the series of hearings, the Committee passed on 18th March to voting on the articles of the proposals submitted. Deputies voted on the general principles contained in the articles, rather than the actual wording itself, as it was agreed this should be determined at a later stage.
Deputies voted to amend the ordering of the chapters to reflect the timeline of the electoral process – starting from the eligibility conditions for candidacy, rules of the electoral campaign, the voter registration process, through to the voting process, counting and announcement of results and period for appeals.
The Committee sent the final draft to the ISIE for an official consultation. The ISIE’s response contained 13 observations, revolving around certain points of contention such as whether to allow for escorts for illiterate voters, some technical details and legal formulations.
The Plenary: discussion and vote on the draft law, article by article
The Assembly launched its plenary discussion of the draft electoral law on Monday 7th April. During the plenary, a specific amount of speaking time will be give to each bloc in addition to non-affiliated representatives and independents, in order to allow for debating and voting on the entire draft, article by article, by the end of this month.