There is broad disagreement among political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly over the type of political system that will be adopted in Tunisia. While the Ennahda movement has indicated they have embraced a parliamentary system, the CPR and Ettakatol parties have indicated their desire to adopt a semi-presidential system.
The presidential system, which has been in place for 55 years in Tunisia is characterized by the office of the president who serves as both the head of state and the chief executive. Supporters of the presidential system claim the advantages are stability, decisiveness, separation of powers, and direct elections. The president has a fixed term of office which may provide more stability than a prime minister who can be dismissed at the will of political winds. A president has more power to quickly enact change. The presidency and the legislature are separated into two parallel structures which ensure checks and balances of power. In a presidential system, the president is often elected directly by the people. Supporters say this makes the president’s power more legitimate. Many argue however that the presidential system in Tunisia has been prone to sinking the country into authoritarianism due to the lack of strong legislative institutions throughout Tunisian history.
In parliamentary governments the head of state and the chief executive are two separate offices. The head of state tends to have a ceremonial role, while the chief executive is the head of the nation’s legislature. This political system has a set of advantages. Notably, quicker legislative action and an equal distribution of power by the separation of the executive and legislative branches. Some criticize the parliamentary system for lacking a definite election calendar which can be abused as well as providing a weak check on the governing coalition. A small parliamentary majority can win almost every vote on every issue in the parliament which could be an almost complete winner-take-all result.
In semi-presidential governments the prime minister and the president actively participate in the administration of the state. The president is popularly elected and has more than just a ceremonial role. The cabinet is named by the president but it is also responsible to the legislature , which may force the cabinet to resign through a motion of no confidence.
The two main secular parties in Tunisia’s new governing coalition, CPR and Ettakatol, are both advocates of this semi-presidential, or mixed parliamentary, system.
“We are for a mixed parliamentary system. The presidential system is a system that we have suffered from for a long time. However, we don’t approve of the parliamentary system for two reasons, mainly the instability that a parliamentary regime can entail…we don’t want the possibility of reaching a similar stalemate that Lebanon found itself in in 2008,” said Sami Ben Amara, campaign director for CPR.
He added, “We are for a balanced system. The president has to be elected directly by the people. He can serve for two terms, 4 years each. The prime minister has to be assigned by the majority in the parliament.”
According to Sadok Bel Aid, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Free University of Tunis, “A mixed parliamentary system is the most suitable system for Tunisia.” He stated that, “The presidential system can easily turn into a regime centered around the president. Our two previous experiences with a presidential system have shown that. A mixed parliamentary system would have made it harder for despots to abuse their powers. It is a system that ensures a balanced distribution of powers. The number of terms a president serves has to be limited to 2 terms.”
Zubayer Shourabee, a member of Ennahda’s Executive Bureau said “We want to make a break from the past, we need to try something new. The presidential system is an oppressive system. The discussion over the choice of system should take place in the Constituent Assembly, not in the government. We will discuss the prerogatives of the prime minister and the length and number of terms of the president’s service later.”
According to Ettakatol’s electoral program the president of the republic should be elected directly for a 5 years term, renewable once. The prime minister is chosen by those who hold the majority in the government.
Sami Razgallah, an Ettakatol member stated “we are advocating a semi-presidential system. It is a moderate regime. We won’t reach a stalemate concerning this issue because every bill is going to be submitted to the Constituent Assembly and their vote is going to determine which system we adopt.”