Adoption of the electoral law is requisite to setting the date for Tunisia’s presidential and legislative elections which, according to the new Constitution’s provisions for the transitional period, must take place before the end of the year. It was under the pressure of binding constitutional framework—but perhaps more of a citizenry less patient and forgiving by the day regarding the (widely perceived un-)productivity of the National Constituent Assembly—that ANC Vice President Mehrezia Labidi «decided to pass the draft in its entirety to a vote in spite of protests from several deputies.» It would appear inevitable that procedures were fraught with tension, that deputies were encumbered by political interests, that issues at the heart of the State and its institutions are inextricably tangled up with party dynamics and even the banal reality of dissimilar personality types and conflicts of interest.
Gender Parity and Youth Representation – Article 23
Discussions around Article 23 concerning the representation of women and youth in lists of candidates for legislative elections descended into what has been regarded as the disdainful behavior and commentary of Mr. Brahim Kassas who has since Wednesday’s session been vehemently reprimanded by media and most notably co-ANC member Mehdi Ben Gharbia of the Democratic Alliance party.
Of the Article 23’s three parts—addressing vertical gender parity, horizontal gender parity (equal representation of men and women in the candidate lists), and the youth quota respectively—it was the second that prompted charged debate over an amendment defended by Souad Abderrahim of Ennahdha. Abderrahim spoke in favor of perfect horizontal parity as opposed to the one-third quota proposed by the majority and was categorically countered by independent Brahim Kassas whose remarks, which roused the blatant consternation of constituent members, were immediately captured and diffused via Twitter by Al Bawsala.
The Prophet declared that if the woman must prosterate herself before anyone, it is before her husband; this is religion, and the woman does not have the right to contest. In bed, she cannot turn her back without her husband’s permission. This is religion, this is religion…! Brahim Kassas quoted in Brahim Kassas is an idiot and I will not apologize
According to Mehdi Ben Gharbia, it was his reproach disparaging Kassas– «You are an animal and an idiot!»–that incited the latter to leave his seat and walk intentionally towards Gharbia, pushing his shoulder before deputy members intervened and pulled the two apart. Ben Gharbia has since reconfirmed his initial response to his colleague’s remarks, explaining on Mosaique FM «How dare he pronounce such statements, obsolete since 300 to 400 years ago while the woman of today that Kassas has denigrated is the same who contributed to Tunisia’s independence.»
Drawn-out and charged debate around Article 23 resulted in the following: the adoption of vertical parity for which the vast majority of deputies voted; the rejection of the proposal for women holding the first name on at least one-third of electoral lists; a reduction of the original draft law’s designated quota for youth representation, from one youth under the age of thirty per top three candidates to one youth under the age of thirty-five per top four candidates. In spite of resounding indignation displayed by ANC members and Tunisians in response to Brahim Kassas’ misogynistic remarks and a consensus on the topic announced the day before, «no quota for the first names on [electoral] lists was granted to women».
The Proverbial ‘Law of Exclusion’ – Article 167
Never in Tunisia’s modern history has an article of law been so controversial, provoking so much polarization, so many verbal spars and politico-ideological clashes, than this one which has become famously known as the ‘law of exclusion,’ pertaining to the former deputies of State and [Ben Ali Regime]. Imed Bahri, Rejection of Article 167 and the New Destourian Order
Business News cites two contrasting points of view as an indication of the extent of the controversy; Khmais Ksila of Nidaa Tounes finds that Article 167 is «unconstitutional and a great injustice» while Nejib Mrad of Ennahdha believes that «it would be better to cancel elections than to see RCDists take part.»
The suspenseful back-and-forth of opinions lasted quite literally until the last moment before votes were counted, when Ennahdha party member Mokhtar Lamouchi’s sudden change of heart was the difference between the adoption or rejection of the article. At the announcement of the results—with 108 in favor, 23 against, 43 abstaining to vote—deputy members stood up in their seats and proceeded to sing the national anthem while Néjiba Beryoul (also of Ennahdha) shouted «RCD, get out!», Béchir Nefzi of CPR tossed his papers into the air, and deputies trickled little by little out of the room. A second round of votes the following day proved even less decisive with 100 in favor, 27 against, and 46 abstaining to vote.
A headline referring to the painful birthing of the new electoral law effectively captures the much anticipated product of ANC deliberations late Thursday evening. After a tumultuous period of debate and deliberation, Parliament passed, with 132 in favor, 11 against, and 9 abstaining to vote, the country’s new electoral law in full. The draft will subsequently be reviewed by a provisional constitutial committee to ensure its conformity to the Constitution.
Labor Day in the Capital
As ANC deputies finalized the electoral law at Parliament chambers in Bardo, citizens filled capital streets with their presence, carrying posters and flags, chanting and singing the national anthem in honor of the international Labor Day holiday. «May 1st is an occasion to remobilise against any infringement of the economic and social rights of workers who are barely meeting their basic needs» said Hama Hammami to Kapitalis. Union members and supporters of political parties gathered along Avenue Habib Bourguiba, speaking to ideals that were slogans of the revolution—«Work, freedom, dignity»—and demanding what is at present most pressing for Tunisia—the basic right of all Tunisians to work and for their rights as workers to be protected.
…only work and production sectors—notably exportation—operating at full force and a significant boost in productivity will counter this [economic] threat and curb the downward spiral of the trade deficit…[We must] place more value on work, and, through public and private investment, open new horizons for our still unemployed youth. Jawhar Chatty, Regaining Hope Through Work
Union leaders called upon the government to focus on building employment in the country’s most marginalized regions, where unemployment rates are more than double the national average, between 16-17% of the active population, according to Kapitalis. Even while citing the gravity of the country’s economic situation, union leaders and party members such as Houcine Abbassi of the UGTT and Hama Hammami of the Popular Front maintained a tone of optimism and praised the Prime Minister’s work thus far, commending his work to restore Tunisia’s image and equally urging him to adhere to the Roadmap that is his designated priority as head of the interim government.