On January 29, 2023, the Republic of Tunisia held its run-off elections for the Assembly of People's Representatives. The first round took place on December 17, 2022. A total of 154 members were elected. Interest in the election was historically low, reportedly with around 11% of eligible voters participating in each round. Opposition parties and several civil society organisations boycotted the elections, referring to the political process as illegitimate due to the low turnout and denouncing the parliament’s lack of power.
Tunisia has experienced political turmoil and economic challenges in recent years. In 2021, President Kais Saied suspended the Assembly of People’s Representatives and dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi. Several members of parliament were reportedly arrested. In March 2022, President Saied dissolved parliament. Later that year, President Saied announced that on July 25 2022, a constitutional referendum would be held and on December 17, 2022, the first round of parliamentary elections.
The 2022 - 2023 elections were the first to be held under the 2022 Constitution and the revised Electoral Law. No political parties competed in the 2022-2023 elections due to changes in the electoral system. Under the 2022 Electoral Law, voters may vote for an individual representing their specific district rather than a candidate representing a political party from a closed party list.
With the adoption of the 2022 Constitution, Tunisia’s parliament changed from a unicameral to a bicameral system. The new parliament consists of the lower house, the Assembly of People's Representatives, and the upper house, the National Assembly of Regions and Districts (NARD). Members of NARD will be indirectly elected and nominated by elected regional councils. At the time of writing, number of NARD members is unknown.
The Assembly of People's Representatives consists of 161 Members directly elected in single-member constituencies via a two-round system. If no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second is organised (with the two leading candidates) within two weeks following the announcement of the results of the first round. Decree No. 2022 – 55 states that 151 of the 161 Members of the Assembly of People's Representatives are elected in Tunisia, and the remaining are 10 from constituencies abroad. All Members of the Assembly of People's Representatives serve for a five-year term.
The President is elected in a two-round system unless a candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round and serves five years, with a limit of two terms. Under the 2022 Constitution, the President appoints the Prime Minister, and the government answers to the President and not as previously to Parliament.
Tunisia currently does not use a gender parity quota to promote and increase women’s representation and participation in parliament. The revised Electoral Law does not include gender parity provisions in elected assemblies. Previously, the Law had required that political parties have half of their lists headed by a woman. The 2022 Constitution reportedly upholds the gender parity principle. MEWC has not obtained an official version of the new Constitution.
Women’s Political Participation
Following the 2022-2023 elections, women hold 25 (15.53%) out of 154 seats in the Assembly of People's Representatives. In the 2019 election, held under the previous Constitution with a unicameral system, 49 (22.58%) out of the 217 representatives in the Assembly were female. 7 of the 10 seats elected by constituencies abroad were not filled as there were not enough candidates. MEWC has yet to be able to confirm if there are female representatives among the three who were elected. At the time of writing, a date has yet to be set for the elections of members to the upper house, the National Assembly of Regions and Districts.
In 2021, Najla Bouden became the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Tunisia. Before her appointment, she was a senior Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research member.
Women’s rights organisations and campaigners point to the 2022 Electoral Law as a significant contributor to the low number of female candidates and women elected to the Assembly of People's Representatives. According to Femmes et Leadership, a non-profit organisation promoting women’s political participation, many women who wanted to run for office were unable to meet the new candidacy requirements. Under the new Law, candidates run as individuals rather than as part of a political party list, and they must self- or privately fund their campaign and gather 400 signatures from registered voters to be eligible to stand for election. The new requirements, the women's rights group say, make it more difficult for interested female candidates to participate in parliamentary elections.
Tunisia has adopted laws aimed at strengthening women’s rights and gender equality. Law No. 58 protects women and girls from all forms of violence, such as physical, sexual, economic, and political. It also prohibits sexual harassment in employment and provides criminal penalties for anyone found guilty of such acts. The Penal Code criminalises rape and prohibits FGM. Regarding women’s economic rights, the Labour Code provides for equal pay and non-discrimination in applying the law. It also protects expectant mothers, making it illegal for employers to dismiss a worker because of her pregnancy. In 2016, Tunisia adopted Organic Law 61 on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Persons, which protects against all forms of exploitation, including human trafficking.
The 2022/2023 parliamentary elections were the first to be held under the new Constitution and revised Electoral Law. After completing the two rounds, women’s representation in the Tunisian parliament declined. Of the 154 members elected to the Assembly of People's Representatives, 25 (15.53%) were women. The date for elections of members to the newly established upper house, the National Assembly of Regions and Districts, has yet to be scheduled.
Following the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisia was viewed as a leader in women’s rights, introducing gender parity in elected assemblies and promoting women’s political participation. However, the 2022 Electoral Law no longer contain any gender parity provisions, and the effects of the Law, campaigners and activists say, are visible in the 2022/2023 election results.
Various actors are organising initiatives to strengthen democracy and advance women’s political participation in Tunisia. Newly elected members of parliament are forming a coalition that aims to, among other activities, amend the 2022 Constitution and reform the electoral law and political system. Women’s organisations, such as Femmes et Leadership, continue to play an essential role in promoting Tunisian women’s full and equal political participation and advancing and protecting women’s human rights.