The politics of Tunisia takes place within the framework of a unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic, with a President serving as head of state, Prime Minister as head of government, a unicameral legislature and a court system influenced by French civil law. Between 1956 and 2011, Tunisia operated as a de facto one-party state, with politics dominated by the secular Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) under former Presidents Habib Bourgiba and then Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. However, in 2011 a national uprising led to the ousting of the President and the dismantling of the RCD, paving the way for a multi-party democracy. October 2014 saw the first democratic parliamentary elections since the 2011 revolution, resulting in a win by the secularist Nidaa Tounes party with 85 seats in the 217-member assembly.
Tunisia is a member of the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It maintains close relations with the United States, France and the European Union, with which it entered an Association Agreement in 1995. Tunisia’s favorable relations with the United States and the European Union were earned following years of successful economic cooperation in the private sector and infrastructure modernization.
Tunisia is a representative democracy with an executive president, a legislature and judiciary. The military is neutral and does not play any role in national politics.
In Tunisia, the President is elected for five-year terms. He 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. Mayors and municipal councils are elected.
Tunisia's legislative branch consists of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, with 217 seats. The first elections for the Assembly of the Representative of the People occurred on 26 October 2014.
Before 2011 revolution the parliament was bicameral. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament was the Chamber of Deputies of Tunisia (Majlis al-Nuwaab), which had 214 seats. Members were elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. At least 25% of the seats in the House of Deputies were reserved for the opposition. More than 27% of the members of the Chamber of Deputies were women. The Lower House played a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy especially as it hosted representatives from six opposition parties. Opposition members often voted against bills or abstain. Because of the comfortable majority enjoyed by the governing party, bills usually passed with only minor changes.
The upper house was the Chamber of Advisors, which included 112 members including representatives of governorates (provinces), professional organizations and national figures. 41 members were appointed by the Head of state while the remainder were elected by their peers. About 15% of the members of the Chamber of advisors were women.
The Tunisian legal system is based on French civil law system and Islamic law; some judicial review of legislative acts takes place in the Supreme Court in joint session. The judiciary is independent, although the judicial council is chaired by the head of state.
Since 1987 Tunisia has reformed its political system several times, abolishing life-term presidencies and opening up the parliament to opposition parties. The number of new political parties and associations has increased since the beginning of Ben Ali's presidency in 1987. Shortly before the revolution of 2011 there were eight recognized national parties, six of which held national legislative seats. President Ben Ali's party, known as the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), commanded majorities in local, regional, and national elections. Although the party was renamed (in President Bourguiba’s days it was the Socialist Destourian Party), its policies were still considered to be largely secular and conservative. However, the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 saw its removal from power.
The Tunisian national elections of 2009, overseen by the Interior Ministry and held on October 25, 2009, elected candidates for president and legislative offices. During the campaign, speeches by candidates were aired on Tunisian radio and television stations. Participation was 89% of resident citizens and 90% of citizens living abroad. In the presidential vote, Ben Ali soundly defeated his challengers, Mohamed Bouchiha (PUP), Ahmed Inoubli (UDU) and Ahmed Ibrahim (Ettajdid Movement) for a fifth term in office. His 89% of the vote was slightly lower than in the 2004 election. In the parliamentary elections, the RCD received 84% of the vote for 161 constituency seats. The MDS won 16 seats under the proportional representation system, followed by the PUP with 12 seats. 59 women were elected to legislative seats.
The election was criticized by opposition parties and some international observers for limitations placed on non-incumbents. In one instance, the Ettajdid party's weekly publication, Ettarik al-Jadid, was seized by authorities for violating campaign communications laws. Meanwhile, a delegation from the African Union Commission praised the election for taking place with "calm and serenity" Prior to the 2009 election, Tunisia amended its constitution to allow more candidates to run for president, allowing the top official from each political party to compete for the presidency regardless of whether they held seats in parliament.
Following the 2010–2011 protests and the vacation of the Presidency by President Ben Ali, elections for a Constituent Assembly were held on 23 October 2011. Results were announced on 25 October 2011 with the center-right and moderately Islamist Ennahda winning a plurality with 37% of the vote.
Parliamentary elections were held in Tunisia on 26 October 2014. Results were announced on 27 October 2014 with secularist Nidaa Tounes winning a plurality with 38% of the vote.
Women hold 23% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, outpacing the percentage of women serving in the U.S. Congress, which stands at 17% in the 111th Congress. More than one-fifth of the seats in both chambers of parliament are held by women, an exceptionally high level in the Arab world.
Tunisia is the only country in the Arab world where polygamy is forbidden by law. This is part of a provision in the country’s Code of Personal Status which was introduced by President Bourguiba in 1956.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was criticized for the low levels of democracy and freedom of expression in the country by Amnesty International and various other organizations. which documented restrictions of basic human rights and obstruction of human rights organizations. The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index ranked Tunisia 141 out of 167 countries studied and 143 out of 173 regarding freedom of the press. Later in his rule repression became more brutal, corruption more visible and the economy more stagnant.
The Jasmine Revolution overthrew President Ben Ali in 2011 -- marking the beginning of the Arab Spring.
On 14 January 2011, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia, ending 23 years in power, following the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades. Street protests and civil disobedience against high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, a lack of political freedoms like freedom of speech and poor living conditions, were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010
A Constituent Assembly was elected on 23 October 2011, and a new constitution was adopted on 26 January 2014. It was passed on 10 February 2014
Under the Ben Ali regime, freedom of the press was officially guaranteed, but the press was highly restricted, as was a substantial amount of web content. Journalists were often obstructed from reporting on controversial events. Prior to the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia practiced internet censorship against popular websites such as YouTube. In 2010 Reporters Without Borders included Tunisia in the country list of “Enemies of the Internet". However, Despite this, Tunisia hosted the second half of the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society in 2005, which endorsed the freedom of the internet as a platform for political participation and human rights protection. By 2010, Tunisia had more than 3.5 million regular internet users and 1.6 million Facebook users and hundreds of internet cafes, known as ‘publinet.’
Five private radio stations have been established, including Mosaique FM, Express FM, Shems FM and private television stations such as Hannibal TV and Nessma TV.
Tunisia is divided into 24 governorates:
Tunisia is a participant in the following international organizations: