By Robert Joyce | Nov 7 2013assembly , NCA , political crisis , roadmap
Changes to National Constituent Assembly procedure, meant to speed the adoption of the country’s post-revolution constitution, have instead led to a dispute in the chamber.
Opposition NCA members, the same politicians who withdrew from the assembly in July, have now stopped participating in the chamber’s work along with the Ettakatol party, a member of the ruling coalition. While previously members did not go to the NCA building at all and stopped all work, now they are present and in closed door meetings, but refuse to vote or attend committee sessions.
NCA Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar was elected from Ettakatol.
“The amendments breach the political balance upon which the NCA is founded,” Ettakatol said in a statement posted on Facebook. [display_posts type="related" limit="3" position="right"]
The move represents a new obstacle in Tunisia’s political crisis and comes in response to amendments to the assembly’s bylaws that, according to the opposition, are tantamount to a “coup.”
These changes to the bylaws, the parliamentary rules that govern the NCA, have been introduced recently in part to speed the assembly’s activity and allow for the faster adoption of the country’s long-awaited constitution.
While agreeing with some of the changes introduced, the opposition says that certain amendments are “nondemocratic,” according to opposition member Noomane Fehri.
Two changes in particular, according to Fehri, are controversial. Both have to do with the power to plan assembly sessions.
One affects the NCA’s planning committee, a group of 10 members from different parties who schedule and decide the agenda of future assembly meetings. The change would reduce the quorum necessary for the committee to meet from seven to five and reduce minimum voting majority from six to three.
Another change removes the need for Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar to approve the schedule and agenda for future meetings. This means a simple majority could control the assembly’s agenda.
“There are no longer any opposition rights,” Fehri said.
The amendments have been passed and reportedly signed by Ben Jaafar, but after a request from opposition members, they have not been printed in the NCA’s official journal and have not taken effect. [display_posts type="same_author" limit="3" position="right"]
Members of the opposition and representatives of the Islamist Ennahdha party both acknowledge that the changes are meant to prevent future suspensions of the NCA and member withdrawals as seen over the summer, when the assembly stopped for over a month with opposition members returning after three months.
“This is revenge,” Fehri added.
Salma Baccar, NCA member from the opposition al-Massar party, estimated that 75 members had suspended their activities, meaning the 217 member assembly could not reach the two-thirds quorum.
Moncef Cheikhrouhou, a Democratic Alliance party opposition member, said closed-door negotiations are now underway between the sides and sought to downplay tensions in the assembly.
Fehri and Baccar said that the protesting members will still be present in the NCA building in Bardo, but will not participate in votes.
Ennahdha members say these amendments are attempts to finish the NCA’s work as quickly as possible.
“So ‘withdrawn deputies’ have ‘suspended participation’ (new name) due to amendment making persistent absence publicly declared & deductible,” tweeted Yusra Ghannouchi, Ennahdha party spokesperson and daughter of leader Rached Ghannouchi.
Another amendment, according to text provided by opposition NCA member Karima Souid, states that the salary of an NCA member absent more than three times without a valid excuse will be reduced and the number of absences made public. This had been NCA policy, but multiple obligatory prior steps were removed by the change. Absence has been an often cited problem in the NCA.
“We’re trying to be responsible,” said Ennahdha member Osama Al Saghir.
“If they want to quit, that’s okay, they can accept the consequences,” he added.
For three months, Al Saghir said, the NCA’s work stopped because of the opposition’s actions after the murder of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi. The amendments are an attempt to prevent a repeat of that crisis.
“We will use them just in case, if they do their job, nothing will happen,” he said.
“Are we responsible for killing Mohamed Brahmi?” he asked, suggested opposition members blamed Ennahdha for his death, prompting their withdrawal in July.
Al Saghir condemned any further delays in the NCA.
“This is what the terrorists want,” he said, “there is a correspondence between what the terrorists want and what some extremists in the opposition want.”
Asma Smadhi and Tristan Dreisbach contributed reporting.