Browse the listing below to find government information for Tunisia, including flags, leaders,
and constitution information. Factrover also has complete information on Tunisia at its
Tunisia Country Page.
Constitution: June 1, 1959; amended July 12, 1988 and June 29, 1999.
Independence: March 20, 1956.
Branches: Executive--chief of state President Zine El Abidine BEN ALI (since November 7, 1987) head of government, Prime Minister Mohamed GHANNOUCHI (since November 17, 1999) cabinet, Council of Ministers appointed by the president; president elected by popular vote for a 5-year term; election last held October 24, 1999 (next to be held in 2004); prime minister appointed by the president. Election results: President Zine El Abidine BEN ALI reelected for a third term; candidates from opposition: Mohamed Belhaj Amor (PUP) and Abderrahmene Tlili (UDU); percent of vote--Zine El Abidine BEN ALI 99.44% (officially).
Legislative--unicameral Chamber of Deputies or Majlis al-Nuwaab (182 seats; 5-year terms; 148 seats are elected by popular vote for party lists on a winner-take-all basis). An additional 34 seats (20% of the total) are distributed to opposition parties on a proportional basis as provided for in 1999 constitutional amendments; there will be a referendum in 2002 on President Ben Ali's proposal to create a second chamber. Elections last held October 24, 1999 (next to be held in 2004).
Election results: percent of vote by party--RCD 92%; seats by party-- RCD 148, MDS 13, UDU 7, PUP 7, Al-Tajdid 5, PSL 2. Note: The opposition increased number of seats from 19 to 34. Judicial--independent District Courts, Courts of Appeal, Highest Court (Cour de Cassation). Judges of the highest court are appointed by the President.
Political parties: Et-Tajdid Movement (Mohamed Harmel); Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique) or RCD President Zine El Abidine BEN ALI (official ruling party); Liberal Social Party or PSL (Mounir Beji); Movement of Democratic Socialists or MDS (Ismail Boulahia); Popular Unity Party or PUP (Mohamed Bouchiha); Unionist Democratic Union or UDU (Abderrahmane TLILI); Democratic Progressive Party or PDP (Nejib Chebbi).
Political pressure groups and leaders: Legal--Tunisian Human Rights League or LTDH (Mokhtar Trifi). Outlawed--An-Nahda (Renaissance) the Islamic fundamentalist party (Rached El Ghanouchi); National Council for Liberties in Tunisia or CNLT (Sihem Ben Sedrine); Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties or FDTL (Mustapha Ben Jaafar); Congress for the Republic or CPR (Moncef Marzouki); Tunisian Communist Labor Party or POCT (Hamma Hammami).
Administrative divisions: 24 governorates--Ariana, Beja, Ben Arous, Bizerte, EL Kef, Gabes, Gafsa, Jendouba, Kairouan, Kasserine, Kebili, Mahdia, Manouba, Medenine, Monastir, Nabeul, Sfax, Sidi Biu Zid, Siliana, Sousse, Tataouine, Tozeur, Tunis, Zaghouan.
Suffrage: Universal at 20 (Active duty members of the military may not vote.).
Flag: Red star on a red crescent in a white circle centered on a red background.
Government of Tunisia
Tunisia is a republic with a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party. President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali has been in office since 1987 when he deposed Habib Bourguiba, who had been President since Tunisia's independence from France in 1956. The ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD), was the sole legal party for 25 years--when it was known as the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD)--and still dominates political life. The President is elected to 5-year terms--with virtually no opposition--and appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also are appointed by the central government; largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected. There is a unicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for the opposition. It plays a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy but never originates legislation and virtually always passes bills presented by the executive with only minor changes. The judiciary is nominally independent but responds to executive direction especially in political cases. The military is professional and does not play a role in politics.
Tunisia's independence from France in 1956 ended a protectorate established in 1881. President Bourguiba, who had been the leader of the independence movement, declared Tunisia a republic in 1957, ending the nominal rule of the former Ottoman Beys. In June 1959 Tunisia adopted a Constitution modeled on the French system, which established the basic outline of the highly centralized presidential system that continues today. The military was given a defined defensive role, which excluded participation in politics. Starting from independence, President Bourguiba placed strong emphasis on economic and social development, especially education, the status of women, and the creation of jobs, policies continued under the Ben Ali administration. The results were strong social indicators--high literacy and school attendance rates, low population growth rates, and relatively low poverty rates--and generally steady economic growth rates. These pragmatic policies have contributed to social stability and political stability.
Progress toward full democracy has been slow. Over the years President Bourguiba stood unopposed for re-election several times and was named "President for life" in 1974 by a constitutional amendment. At the time of independence, the Neo-Destourian Party (later the PSD)--enjoying broad support because of its role at the forefront of the independence movement--became the sole legal party when opposition parties were banned until 1981.
When President Ben Ali came to power in 1987 he promised greater democratic openness and respect for human rights, signing a "national pact" with opposition parties. He oversaw constitutional and legal changes, including abolishing the concept of president for life, the establishment of presidential term limits, and provision for greater opposition party participation in political life. But the ruling party, renamed the Democratic Constitutional Assembly (RCD), continued to dominate the political scene because of its historic popularity and the advantage it enjoyed as the ruling party. Ben Ali ran for re-election unopposed in 1989 and 1994, and won 99.44% of the vote in 1999 when he faced two weak opponents. The RCD won all seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 1989, and won all of the directly elected seats in the 1994 and 1999 elections. However, constitutional amendments in those years provided for the distribution of additional seats to the opposition parties in 1999. Currently, five opposition parties share 33 of the 182 seats in the Chamber. A May 2002 referendum will likely approve constitutional changes proposed by Ben Ali to allow him to run for a fourth term in 2004, create a second parliamentary chamber, and provide for other changes.
There are currently six legal opposition parties, the Social Democratic Movement (MDS), the Popular Unity Party (PUP), the Union of Democratic Unionists (UDU), Ettajdid (also called the Renewal Movement), the Social Liberal Party (PSL), and the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), the only one not represented in the Chamber of Deputies. Most accept the basic economic and social policies of the government but are critical of the pace of democratization in the country--and focus considerable attention on support for Arab causes. The parties are generally weak and divided and face considerable restrictions on their ability to organize. The Islamist opposition party, An-Nadha, was allowed to operate openly in the late 1980s and early 1990s despite a ban on religiously based parties. The government outlawed An-Nadha as a terrorist organization in 1991 and arrested its leaders and thousands of party members and sympathizers, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the President. The party is no longer openly active in Tunisia, and its leaders operate from exile in London. There are several pro-democracy activists who have been denied permission to establish other opposition political parties.
While there are thousands of nominally established non-governmental organizations, civil society also is weak. The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), the first such organization in the Arab world, operates under restrictions and suffers from internal divisions. The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), the Young Lawyers Association, and the Bar Association also are active. The government has denied legal status to a handful of other human rights advocacy groups who, nonetheless, attempt to gather and publicize information on the human rights situation in the country.
Although Tunisia is making progress toward a democratic system, citizens still do not have full political freedom. There are curbs on the press and on freedom of speech. Many critics have called for clearer, effective distinctions between executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The foreign press and foreign-based satellite television channels have criticized the Tunisian Government and demanded more freedom of speech and greater respect for human rights. There are frequent reports of widespread torture and abuse of prisoners, especially political prisoners, by security officers.
Trade unions have played a key role in Tunisia's history since the struggle for independence, when the 1952 assassination of labor leader Farhat Hached was a catalyst for the final push for against French domination. The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the country's sole labor confederation, has generally focused on bread-and-butter issues but at some critical moments in Tunisia's history has played a decisive role in the nation's political life. Despite a drop in union membership from 400,000 to about 250,000 as the structure of the Tunisian economy changed, the UGTT continues to hold a prominent place in Tunisia's political and social life, and negotiates with government and the umbrella employer group for higher wages and better benefits. The current leadership, headed by Abdessalem Jerad, was elected at an extraordinary congress in February 2002, held to reset the union's direction after its former long-time leader was removed for embezzlement in 2000. The current board of directors includes some former dissidents and has pledged to reinvigorate the union and increase its role in the country's political life.
Tunisia is a leader in the Arab world in promoting the legal and social status of women. A Personal Status Code was adopted shortly after independence in 1956 which, among other things, gave women full legal status (allowing them to run and own businesses, have bank accounts, and seek passports under their own authority) and outlawed polygamy. The government required parents to send girls to school, and today more than 50% of university students are women. Rights of women and children were further enhanced by 1993 reforms, which included a provision to allow Tunisian women to transmit citizenship even if they are married to a foreigner and living abroad. The government has supported a remarkably successful family planning program that has reduced the population growth rate to just over 1% per annum, contributing to Tunisia's economic and social stability.
Tunisia's judiciary is headed by the Court of Cassation, whose judges are appointed by the president. The country is divided administratively into 23 governorates. The president appoints all governors.