State and politics
The Arab Spring began with a popular uprising in Tunisia.
The president since 1987, Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali, resigned
and fled the country in January 2011. The country is the
only one where the upheavals in 2011 led to a democratic
Work on a new constitution began in February 2012, and
this could finally be approved in January 2014. According to
the constitution, Islam is state religion, while
guaranteeing freedom of religion; however, the president
must be Muslim. The executive power is shared between the
president, who is the head of state, and the government,
which is led by the prime minister. The president is elected
in general elections for a term of five years and may be
The legislative power lies with Parliament, the Assembly
of Representatives, whose 217 members are elected by
majority vote in one-man constituencies every five years.
The voting age is 18 years.
After elections to a Constituent Assembly were held in
October 2011, regular parliamentary elections could be held
in October 2014. In these, the secular party Nidaa
Tounes ('Call for Tunisia'), formed in 2012, won 86 of
217 seats. The second largest party with 69 seats became the
previously banned Islamist party Ennahda
('Paternity Birth'). Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of TS and its meanings of Tunisia.
Ennahda dominated the Constituent Assembly that was
elected in 2011 and then formed a coalition government
together with the secular parties Congrès pour la
République (CPR) and Ettakatol. However, these
two went back in the 2014 elections while two other secular
parties, the Free Patriotic Union and the People's Front for
the realization of the aims of the revolution, moved
forward. In 2015, a coalition government was formed, which
included Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda.
The presidential election held in November and December
of the same year became a battle between Nidaa Tune's
candidate Beji Caid Essebsi and the interim president since
2011, Moncef Marzouki (born 1945) from CPR. In the second
round, 88-year-old Essebsi then received 56 percent of the
vote. Essebsi, who was previously Minister, Ambassador and
Speaker of Parliament under the representatives of Habib
Bourguiba and Ben Ali, thus became the country's first
President elected in free, democratic elections.
Unlike other countries affected by the Arab Spring,
Tunisia has followed the trend towards democracy. However,
this process was threatened by political violence in 2013.
The Tunisian Quartet for National Dialogue played a crucial
role in reaching a political solution and was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Nidaa Tounes has been characterized by internal
contradictions. Defenders have formed new parties, which in
2016 resulted in Nidaa Tounes losing her position as the
largest party in parliament. In 2019, Prime Minister Youssef
Chahed (born 1975) left Nidaa Tounes and formed the party
Tahya Tounes ('Leve Tunisia'). The background is
considered a power struggle between Chahed and Hafedh Caïd
Essebsi (born 1961), President Essebsi's son and Nidaa
Toune's party leader.
Beji Caid Essebsi passed away in July 2019, after which
the presidential election which was announced for November
was moved to September the same year. The voters in many
ways showed their dissatisfaction with the established
parties and politicians. The turnout was only 45 percent.
The most independent candidate was Kaïs Saïed, lawyer with
constitutional law as a specialty, and Nabil Karoui (born
1963), who owns a large TV company and who founded the
political party Qalb Tounes ('the heart of Tunisia') before
the election. In the decisive round of elections in October
(in which turnout increased to 57 percent), Saïed won with
72 percent of the vote. He clearly received the strongest
support among young voters, despite conservative views on
issues related to homosexuality, the death penalty and
women's inheritance rights. Saïed's reputation for being
indomitable was considered to have contributed to his
Tunisia under Ben Ali
Tunisia was under Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali an economically
liberal but politically authoritarian country. The ruling
party, which from 1988 to the 2011 revolution was called the
Rassemblement Constitutionel Démocratique
("Constitutional Democratic Assembly", RCD) had total
dominance, despite the limited number of parliamentary seats
reserved for the opposition of the 1990s. No free political
debate was possible. Regime critics and human rights
activists were at great risk of being imprisoned, and the
media was tightly held. The authorities blocked a large
number of Internet sites. Ennahda, believed to have been
able to challenge RCD, was banned in 1991 and its leaders
were either thrown in jail or forced to leave the country.
Thanks to the relatively good economy and standard of
living, RCD and Ben Ali nevertheless enjoyed a relatively
high level of public confidence. According to the old
constitution, which was adopted in 1959 and revised in 1988
and 2002, the president had great power. In addition to
being head of state, the president also held the highest
executive power and was also commander-in-chief.
Presidential elections were held every five years. A
constitutional change in 2002 allowed the president to be
re-elected unlimited times. Ben Ali won his post in power in
1987 by far in every presidential election.
The legal order in Tunisia is mainly codified according
to the French pattern. The judiciary consists of different
kinds of courts of appeal, appellate courts and a court of
appeal. The death penalty remains in the legislation but is
de facto abolished in 1991.
Heads of State
||Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali
||Beji Caid Essebsi