The National Constituent Assembly will vote on the new constitutional draft in a first step towards restoring democracy following disputes between the governing Islamist and opposing secular parties that emerged in the aftermath of the downfall of the former president’s regime in 2011.
The adoption of the constitution is a crucial step to end the crisis between Islamists and secular parties before new elections, set to be held later this year, can take place. However, the voting process is disrupted by ongoing tensions between the various members of the constituent assembly.
Ahmed Najib El Chabbi, who was himself a candidate in the presidential election of 2009 and is now representing the Republican Opposition Party in the Constituent Assembly, said that the constitutional draft gives the president more powers than necessary.
Voting on the constitutional draft started on the 3rd of January, and has involved not only several altercations but also many brawls.
Khodir, the General Rapporteur and member of the ruling Islamic Renaissance Movement, mentioned that one of the main causes for this tension is the extent of responsibility imposed on all members of the Constituent Assembly.
Khodir said that “we hope that these events are transient and that we will be able to surpass them, by God’s will. The reasons for these developments are probably the intensity of work, the high level of stress and the pressure felt due to the great importance of the constitutional text."
The rift between the Islamists and the secular parties on the role of religion in the country has widened since the 2011 uprising, especially after two secular politicians were assassinated by Islamist militants.
The drafting of the new constitution in Tunisia already began two years ago, however the adoption of the document was delayed due to the above-mentioned disagreement regarding the role of religion in politics and the escalation between the governing Renaissance Movement and its secular opponents.
Noman Fihri, Founding Member of the party “Prospects for Tunisia”, stated that it is extremely difficult to reach consensus on the Constitution’s articles. This is particularly true as disputes arise not only between the parties, but also within the parties themselves.
Amira El Yahyaoi, president of “Compass Association”, mentioned that a harsh dispute took place between two deputies of the renaissance movement. According to her, tensions erupted between MP Mania Brahim and MP Mahrziah Labeidi on the topic of women's rights. She added that the division within the renaissance movement has grown with the course of the ongoing voting.
Voting did not even break for the holiday on the occasion of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and was scheduled to end on Tuesday, January 14 - the third anniversary of the ouster of Ben Ali. But continuing differences will likely lead to the continuation of voting for several more days.