Thousands of voters belonging to Tunisia’s legal sector found their way to polling stations across the country on Sunday, October 23 in a historic bid to elect the country’s first independent Supreme Judicial Council after the revolution.
The Supreme Judicial Council is the country’s highest judicial authority, and is responsible for safeguarding Tunisia’s democratic system and appointing judges to the Constitutional Court, the national court responsible for affirming the constitutionality of laws.
This year marks a distinct change in the way members of the council came to power. Previously, members of the Supreme Judicial Council were appointed directly by government officials, ensuring a system of patronage that could be used to control the judgments of the Courts. Now, the majority (33) of its 45 members are independently elected by practicing lawyers, judges, bailiffs, notaries, and judges in their respective fields. Tunisia’s “gender equity principle,” a guideline outlined in Tunisia’s constitution aimed to uphold equal representation between men and women in elected positions, was also applied during the elections.
However, aspects of the election process have provoked controversy. Accredited judge Mr. Baligh Abassi, for his part, hailed the elections as a landmark achievement for Tunisia’s judicial system.
“These elections were executed with respect for the law,” he told Tunisia Live. “All new regulations and guidelines were respected,”
While Abassi acknowledged that some polling stations experienced minor logistical problems, the overall result was a positive step for the country, he said.
However, others, such as The Tunisian Observatory for the Independence of the Justice, a non-governmental organization dedicated to ensuring the independence of justices, were more critical.
In a statement released by the organization early this week, the group cast doubt on the integrity of the process, claiming that familiar forms of corruption had crept in, with high-ranking officials propping up candidates and leveraging voters.
“The Observatory notes that the election results point to the return of old practices,” the statement says,”…We also condemn the role of some political parties in guarantying the victory of specific nominees at the expense of individual candidates.”
Others have specifically condemned the ascension of Khaled Abbess, a former judge under Ben Ali’s regime who was accused of hoisting a coup attempt against members of the Supreme Judicial Council in 2005. Abbess has been elected as a Judicial Magistrate on the council.
Responding to questions about the return of former Ben Ali justices, Abassi insisted that this, in and of itself, is not cause for alarm, as nearly all of Tunisia’s judges have had some contact with the former Ben Ali government. Additionally, he emphasized that current law permits any candidate to seek elected office, regardless of their political orientation.
“It is not a question of regimes,” Abassi continued, “It is the judge’s responsibility to abide by the oath that he affirmed before taking the role he has been entrusted with.”
Numerous civil society organizations, including the Tunisian Association for the Integrity of Democracy (ATIDE), Mourakibon, and I Watch, sent members to observe the process. While they reported minor logistical breaches, they ultimately concluded that the elections were carried out successfully with respect to the law.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.