16 November 2012: CT Consults with Tunisian Constituent Assembly and Civil Society in Tunis

On the invitation of the West Asia and North Africa regional office of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Professor Sujit Choudhry and research fellow Richard Stacey recently traveled to Tunis to lead a seminar on 16 November for members of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly (CA) and civil society on ‘semi-presidential’ government, in which a directly elected president shares executive authority with a cabinet backed by the confidence of parliament. One third of the world’s democracies employ a semi-presidential system, including countries in Africa, post-communist Eastern Europe, post-authoritarian Latin America, Scandinavia, East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

While Tunisia’s recently-elected CA has yet to come to a complete agreement on some fundamental questions of constitutional design, a consensus is beginning to emerge that Tunisia should adopt the ‘semi-presidential’ model. Professor Choudhry and Mr. Stacey presented a comprehensive report on semi-presidentialism, exploring the highly technical details of semi-presidential government as well as the broader impacts of these design choices on democratic performance, government stability and government efficacy. The report complements a second study prepared by Professor Chafik Sarsar, a Tunisian constitutional lawyer and a key advisor to the constitution-making process. Professor Chafik Sarsar makes the case for a parliament that is truly representative of the Tunisian people and able to exercise effective oversight of the government and the president, rather than one that merely rubber-stamps the president’s plans. Choudhry and Stacey’s report seeks to address these concerns in the context of a wide-ranging comparative analysis of the multiplicity of design choices that are available within the semi-presidential form of government, especially on the central question of the presidential power to dismiss a government without legislative consent.

In the months and years ahead, Tunisia’s constitution-makers will have to select the combination of design elements which, in the context of the country’s political, historical and legal landscape, are most likely to allow Tunisia to achieve its constitutional aspirations. The goal of the report was to present a range of design options to Tunisia’s constitution-makers.

In the days following the seminar, Professor Choudhry and Mr. Stacey connected with law students around Tunis. On 17 November, they led a lively discussion among students in the common law masters program offered by the Faculté Des Sciences Juridiques Politiques et Sociales de Tunis at the University of Carthage. Professor Choudhry also addressed students in Professor Chafik Sarsar’s constitutional law class at the Université de Tunis El Manar.