Members of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) are holding a series of public meetings over the most recent draft of the constitution to give citizens a chance to participate in the drafting process, according to Habib Khedher, a spokesperson for the NCA.
The second draft of Tunisia’s next constitution was released on December 14.
“This is a crucial step in the cooperative drafting of the constitution that the NCA is taking in order to open up to those who are outside of [the NCA] and reach a consensus,” Khedher said.
During four weekly Sunday sessions–of which three have already been held–the NCA is hosting six meetings in different governorates across the country, aiming to cover all 24 governorates.
Members of the NCA representing the local governorate, members of the Joint Board for Coordination and Drafting, and consultants for the NCA are meeting with the public, including students and concerned citizens, Khedher said.
Additional meetings will be held abroad for members of the Tunisian diaspora to express their views, Khedher said.
The NCA consultants will draft reports of the public’s suggestions and comments, and the Joint Board for Coordination and Drafting will consider the reports in composing the third draft, Khedher said.
“It is surprising to hear some people say that we are not taking into consideration the voices of citizens and civil society. In fact, that is against what the NCA aims for,” added Khedher.
But Nadia Chaabane, an NCA member from the opposition, said the national debate excluded members of the NCA who, like her, represent Tunisians abroad. While such members will attend meetings abroad, they have not been invited to attend the local meetings.
“I am surprised we didn’t take part of the local meetings here,” she said.
Chaabane also criticized the internal practices of the NCA, saying the constitutional sub-committees should be able to participate in the dialogue in addition to the Joint Board for Coordination and Drafting.
Constitutional law professor Kais Saied commended the NCA efforts to draw citizens’ participation, but expressed concern with the low level of attendance and the extent to which the public’s comments will be considered in the drafting.
“Holding these meetings should not be a goal itself. Suggestions must be taken into consideration afterwards,” he said.
The first draft of the constitution, released in August 2012, was heavily criticized for failing to protect gender equality and free speech. Under pressure from civil society representatives, the NCA altered the clauses to remove ambiguity.
Saied said he hoped additional changes will be made to the existing draft. He said that some of the previous alterations do not go far enough and that the second draft is overly detailed.
“Trying to mention everything in the constitution while you can do that in other laws would make the constitution lose its true value,” he stated.
According to both Saied and Chaabane, the section that addresses the legislative and executive powers and the relationship between them is also still problematic. Dividing responsibilities and tasks among the president and the prime minister is still not decided.
“There’s a separate section to the defense and security institutions… which is unnecessary. It’s enough to rely on a set of general principles instead,” Saied said.
Khedher said the next step in the constitutional process is for the Joint Board to write a third draft based on a collection of documents that include the final reports of the constitutional sub-committees, previous reports of the Joint Board, and suggestions and comments from members of the NCA, the public, and constitutional experts.
“Every law is open to discussion and criticism… The constitution’s main role is preserving the freedom to do that,” Saied said.