After long heated debates, a final draft of Tunisia’s new constitution was released last week by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). The draft is to be submitted to the speaker of the NCA, the Prime Minister and the President. An absolute majority 109 out of 217 assembly members must vote in favour of the constitution, article by article, before the final draft becomes law.
The NCA have been charged since the October 23 elections with drafting Tunisia’s new constitution. Even though the governing Islamist party Ennahdha, which won 89 out of 217 seats in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly rejected the conservatives’ demand that Sharia law should provide the main source of legislation in the new constitution, they chose instead to retain the first article of the 1959 constitution, which states that, “Tunisia is a free, sovereign and independent state, whose religion is Islam and language is Arabic.” Ennahdha has been criticized on many occasions for proposing articles that could limit freedoms especially those of women.
Women’s rights have proved a pivotal issue in the first draft of the constitution released last August. The draft included the controversial article 28, which describes women as men’s “partners” and asserts that “their roles complement one another within the family”. Many secularists and feminists have argued that the article contradicts Tunisia’s personal status code, a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 1956 that continues to set Tunisia apart as the most progressive Arab country regarding women’s rights. The Personal Status Code banned polygamy and gave women the right to file for divorce. Civil society activists objected to the proposed article and put pressure on the NCA which led to the article being removed.
Another proposed article in August called for the criminalization of religious offenses, stating that “The state guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice and criminalizes all attacks on that which is sacred.” Many criticized the blasphemy article and said that it may be used as a convenient vehicle for political and social repression. Such an article was not proposed in the final draft, which only stated that, “the state preserves religion and ensures the freedom of religious belief and practice”.
There has been debate in Tunisia over the structure of the emergent
political system, and whether it should a presidential, parliamentary or mixed
system. While the Ennahdha party has called for a parliamentary system, many
other opposition parties call for a presidential one. However, no consensus has
yet been reached.
Unlike the constitution draft that was released on August, this final draft does not seem to hold many surprises. However, opposition politicians have accused the parliamentary committee charged with drafting the constitution of modifying articles relating to the right to strike and freedom of expression without having the authority to do so.