On Saturday, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) announced that the drafting of the Tunisian constitution had been completed, but the sixteen-month long process of creating the framework for a new government may yet be far from over.
Three preliminary versions of the constitution have been produced since the January 2011 revolution, but in a ceremony this weekend, the NCA produced what it deemed a last draft.
In an interview today with Tunisia Live, NCA General Rapporteur Habib Khedher, a member of the ruling Ennahdha party, explained that there are several more stages that the document must pass through before it reaches completion.
Khedher clarified that the final draft will be discussed tomorrow and Wednesday during plenary sessions at the NCA. Each of the NCA’s six constitutional drafting committees will be present and will report on the sections of the constitution related to their particular committees.
According to Khedher, the “constitutional project” will then be combined with reports from the drafting committees, and this file will be submitted to Tunisia’s president and prime minister. Fifteen days later, the NCA will receive a response from the president and the prime minister. Then, the entire file, including comments from the president and prime minister, will be discussed in further plenary sessions at the NCA.
Although he stressed the importance of finishing Tunisia’s constitution as soon as possible, Khedher explained that the process might not reach completion until later this summer.
“The final discussions will probably take place during the last 20 days of this month [June],” Khedher stated. “Hopefully, the constitution will be completed in late July.”
The process of producing Tunisian’s new constitution began with the country’s first democratic elections in October 2011. Nine months after the wave of protests that ousted former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians elected the country’s National Constituent Assembly, the body tasked with writing Tunisia’s new constitution.
Almost two years later, Khedher expressed that he is satisfied with the length of time that the process has taken.
“It took us [the NCA] this long because we wanted to reach a certain degree of agreement regarding some articles. This is important because the text has its specificities.”
NCA member Mabrouka Mbarek, however, asserted her dissatisfaction with Saturday’s draft to Tunisia Live. A member of the Congress for the Republic party, which is part of the ruling coalition, Mbarek claimed that the agreed-upon constitutional drafting process “has not been respected.”
Mbarek told Tunisia Live that after the NCA spent nearly a year and a half debating the text of the new constitution and agonizing over its details, the draft was radically changed when it was brought before the National Dialogue conference last month for discussion. Mbarek claimed that while only the most controversial issues were supposed to be addressed at the National Dialogue, the whole constitution was discussed at length.
“Instead of just debating the big issues, they discussed the whole draft. They even removed whole sentences…It’s kind of upsetting,” she said, adding, “We really don’t know why we went through this long process if, in the end, it [the constitution] was to be changed substantially.”
“I know that a lot of NCA members have been having emergency meetings. Some want to boycott, some want to walk out,” Mbarek said. “I cannot tell you what the next step is, as I have no idea. If the final draft stays like this, with these substantial changes, I think that there will be a lot of issues.”
After the final draft of the constitution has been presented to the NCA, it will be adopted if it receives a two-thirds majority vote. In the case that it fails to receive enough votes, the draft will be revised by the coordinating committee before being brought before the NCA for a second vote. If it does not receive enough votes this time, it will be brought before the public for a popular referendum.
Khedher expressed his belief that the NCA will be able to reach an internal agreement on the constitution.
“I don’t think that we will need a referendum,” he said. “So far, we have managed to agree on most of the articles.”
However, in an interview today with Shems FM, NCA Democratic Bloc member Fadhel Moussa asserted that a referendum may be necessary. Moussa emphasized that if a referendum were to take place and it did not pass, the country would find itself in a precarious situation. In such a case, according to Moussa, all of the current NCA members would be forced to resign, and new elections would have to be held.
“Instead of the upcoming elections that we were hoping for, we would have to hold elections for a new Constituent Assembly,” he warned.
To avoid such a reality, Moussa urged the need to reach a two-thirds majority vote within the NCA, despite disagreements.
Mbarek is not optimistic, however. “We might be in a deadlock,” she said.
Roua Khlifi contributed reporting.
Correction (June 4, 2013): An earlier version of this article stated that the Congress for the Republic was an opposition party. The party is, in fact, a member of the ruling coalition. The text was corrected to reflect this.