As Constitution Talks Start in Tunis, Opposition Speaks Up

Article Summary
As the National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia began reading the country’s draft constitution, opponents of the ruling Ennahda party contended it deviated from what the assembly originally wrote.

On July 1, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) officially opened sessions to discuss the draft of the new Tunisian constitution. This comes a year and a half after the ANC — which was entrusted with the task of drafting the country’s new constitution following the revolution that ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — was elected.

The plenary session was attended by ANC members, a number of representatives of civil society, experts who contributed to drafting the constitution and a number of political party heads.

The opposition MPs expressed their objections and anger in the session, where they interrupted the speech of the general rapporteur of the constitution, Habib Khodr of Ennahda. They stressed that the latter provided a false version of the constitution which does not reflect the work of ANC’s committees and does not include the agreements reached by the political parties in the May 2013 national dialogue.

Khodr denied what he said were “allegations” by the opposition. The report consisted of the work of the ANC’s committees in charge of drafting the constitution, which was signed by the heads of the committees affiliated with various parliamentary blocs.

Although the groups in the political arena reached a consensus on the constitution, the opposition still has reservations on some of the articles, especially those indicating that Islam is the state religion, and those that — according to the opposition and civil society groups — do not conform to international standards of freedom of expression, press and publication (including Article 124 on the freedom of expression).  

The ANC is expected to continue the general discussion on the constitution, which allows MPs to express their views before ratifying the constitution article by article. According to the ANC's rules of procedure, in case the constitution is not ratified by a two-thirds majority, a second reading shall take place. In case the constitution is not ratified by a two-thirds majority upon two readings, the constitution shall be submitted to a referendum — which most political parties are trying to avoid.

In a related context, Rachid Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda, expressed his hope that the constitution is ratified upon first reading. He stressed that yesterday's dispute between MPs during the plenary session yesterday will not affect the consensus on the constitution, nor the elections before the end of the year.

On the other hand, Hussein Abbasi, secretary-general of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), expressed his regret for the “confusion and disturbance” that took place within the ANC. He also expressed his fear that the tense situation could complicate the tasks of the national dialogue, and affect the possibility of holding elections before the end of the year.

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Found in: draft, referendum, islamist rise in tunisia, islamist, ennahda
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