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The president is the elected official who serves as the head of the executive branch of the Republic of Tunisia. In addition to the president, the executive branch is composed of a prime minister and a Council of Ministers, all of whom are appointed by the president. Voting rights are extended to all Tunisian nationals of at least 20 years of age. The president is elected by popular vote. The constitution as amended in 1988 stated that candidates for the presidency must be at least 40 years of age and could not exceed 70 years of age at the time that they submit their names for candidacy. A subsequent constitutional amendment in May 2002 abolished the term limit and extended the eligibility of candidates to 75 years of age. All those seeking candidacy must be supported by at least 30 parliamentarians or members of municipal councils, and they must present their nominations to a committee composed of the president and four other members: President of the National Parliament, the President of Constitutional Council, the First President of the Court of Cessation, and the First President of the Administrative Tribunal. This committee evaluates the legitimacy of the candidates and proclaims the final results of the election. A June 1999 amendment to the Tunisian Constitution of 1991 provides for competitive presidential elections.

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Election Laws, Systems and Processes

Amendments were introduced to the electoral code through the extraordinary amendment of the Constitution in July 2008. The Tunisian Parliament voted on and approved these amendments on 13 April 2009. The amendments resulted in a number of stipulations including the following: reducing the voting age from 20 to 18 years old, which allowed around 500,000 youth to practice their voting rights for the first time. Prohibiting the use of private and foreign media to ensure equality among all candidates and prevent the intervention of foreign parties in Tunisian internal affairs. Settling appeals pertaining to the elections within 15 days instead of 5 days which the previous law allowed for; it is also possible for the president of parliament to extend the time for settling appeals from 15 days to three weeks in order to give the parliament sufficient time for carrying out its duties. The amendments also stipulated reducing the age of candidacy to parliament to 23 years old persons and enabled any person born to a Tunisian mother to run for elections in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councilors. They also open the space for and entitle Tunisian communities in the Diaspora to participate in presidential elections and referendum. The amendments lead to approving the establishment of a National Observatory for Elections and the possibility for political figures and international observers to be present at and monitor the electoral process. The stipulations also include the regulation of the optimal number of seats in parliament based on a ratio of one seat for every 48,700 citizens; an additional parliamentary seat is ascribed if the remaining population exceeds half the approved ratio (more than 24,350 citizens). This latter amendment increased the number of parliament members by 25 members. Thus, the Tunisian Parliament is now constituted of 214 members. As for the amendments relating to municipal elections, the revision of 13 April 2009 has allowed for an increase in the number of municipal seats, from the current 268 seats, to around one thousand seats.

According to the electoral code, the term of parliament members is five years, whereas the Tunisian electoral system is a combination of a majority electoral system and a proportional representation system. The legislature elected in 1994 was the first pluralist body in modern Tunisian history. Amendments made in 1993 to the Electoral Code of April 1969, which governs the procedures for legislative elections, sought to ensure that opposition parties would secure places in the legislature. The 1989 elections, in which not a single opposition party won seats in the legislature, in part spurred the changes.

In 1994 the legislature was composed of 163 members, of which 144 were elected from 25 multi-seat constituencies under the rules of the party-list vote system. The remaining 19 were elected from a national constituency to achieve proportional representation among the parties. Based on amendments introduced in November 1998, the Electoral Code was again altered in significant ways prior to the most recent legislative elections held in October 1999. The number of legislators was expanded to 182, all of whom are now elected from single-seat constituencies. The rights to political association are governed by the Political Parties Law of May 1988. Political parties are not permitted to base their principles or activities on issues of religion, language, race or gender. In January 2001 the legislature adopted a bill increasing the amount of state financial support to political parties by 50 percent. All parties with at least one elected member in the Chamber of Deputies are eligible for the increase in funds.

Constitutional amendments in 2002 established an upper house within the Tunisia legislature. The Chamber of Councilors (Majlis al-Mustasharin) is to be elected for the first time in June 2005. The size of the upper house has not yet been determined, but the constitution limits the number of members to two-thirds that of the number of members of the Chamber of Deputies. The new house will be composed of three groups, each making up one-third of its members. The first group will include one or two representatives for each governorate, dependent on population. These will be elected indirectly by an electoral college composed of electors from each of the municipal councils in the governorates. The second group will be elected by trade unions and professional associations on a national level. The third group will be appointed by the president from among nationally known personalities. Each representative will serve a six year term, with half of the house being renewed every three years. Eligibility to the Chamber of Councilors is the same as for the Chamber of Deputies.

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Election Authorities

The Ministry of the Interior oversees elections in Tunisia.

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Presidential Elections

The latest presidential and legislative elections in Tunisia were held on 25 October 2009. President Zein El-Abdeen Ben Ali won a fifth five-year term after receiving 89.62% of the electoral vote which amounted to around 4,737,367 votes. Three candidates from the opposition competed with Ben Ali for presidency including Mohamed Bouchiha, the Secretary General of the Popular Unity Party, who received 236,955 votes (5.01%) of the vote; Ahmed El-Inoubli, Secretary General of the Unionist Democratic Union, who received 179,726 votes (3.80%) of the vote; and finally, Ahmed Ibrahim the First Secretary of the Renewal Movement who received 74,257 votes (1.57%) of the vote. The participation rate in the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections was 89.40% of eligible voters.

Presidential and legislative elections in Tunisia took place on October 24, 2004. President Zain Al-Abdeen Ben Ali was re-elected to serve a fourth term of 5 years after receiving 94.48% of the 4.6 million voters. Three candidates ran against Ben Ali. The first candidate ran for the "popular unity party" (3.78 of votes); the second ran for the "social liberal party (0.79 of votes); and the third ran for the "Renewal party" (0.95 of votes). The voters’ turnout ratio in the presidential and legislative elections was 74.13% of eligible voters.

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Legislative Elections

According to the latest amendments to the electoral code, 25% of parliamentary seats are reserved for members of the political opposition parties. In the 2009 legislative elections, the ruling “Constitutional Democratic Rally” won 161 seats out of the 214 seats comprising the Tunisian Parliament, whereas the opposition parties shared the remaining 53 seats. In the lead came the “Movement of Social Democrats” which won 16 seats, followed by the “Popular Unity Party” with 12 seats. The “Social Liberal Party” won 8 seats, the “Green Party” won 6 seats and the “Unionist Democratic Union” was able to secure 9 seats. The “Renewal Movement” came at the bottom of the list with 2 seats. On the other hand, the “Democratic Bloc for Labor and Liberties” and the “Progressive Democratic Party” did not win any seats in parliament as they only obtained 0.12% and 0.03% of the vote, respectively. Similarly, the Independent lists, which obtained 0.5% of the vote, did not secure any seat in parliament.

Prior to the latest amendment of the electoral code 20% of seats in parliament were reserved for members of the political opposition parties. In 2004 legislative elections the ruling party "The Democratic Constitutional Rally" won 152 seats out of the parliament's 189 seats. The Democratic Socialist Movement won 14 seats, the Popular Unity party won 11 seats and the Democratic Unionist Party won 7 seats. The social Liberal party and the Renewal Movement won 2 seats each. The Democratic Progressive Party did not participate in the elections. The leader of the Democratic Movement presented a formal complaint to the constitution council contesting the elections results. However, international and Arab observers said that no serious violations were observed and that the elections proceeded in a quiet and transparent manner. The opposition parties are the social-democratic Movement of Socialist Democrats, the Arab-Nationalist Unionist Democratic Union, the Socialist Party of People’s Unity, the Communist Movement for Renewal, and the Liberal Social-Liberal Party. The chief extra-parliamentary party is the Annahdha Party.

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Local Elections

The last municipal elections took place on May 9, 2010. More than 10,500 candidates competed in these elections for 4478 seats and the rate of participation reached 83.47%. The ruling Democratic Constitutional Grouping Party won 75% of the seats while the remaining 25% of the seats were distributed to the remaining competing lists. The Movement of the Socialist Democrats won 154 seats, the Popular Unity Party won 119 seats, and the Unionist Democratic Party won 66 seats, and the Liberation Social Party won 35 seats, and the Greens Party won 29 seats. Meanwhile, the independent lists won 15 seats. Thus the number of winners from the opposition parties of municipal members and independent lists reached 418. It should be noted that the number of winners of the opposition parties and independent lists rose by 150 seats compared to the 2005 elections.

Previous municipal elections took place on May 8, 2005. 2.8 million citizens voted in 264 electoral districts to choose 4366 municipal members for a 5-year term. The ruling party received 93.9% of total votes and its candidates captured 4098 municipal seats. Four opposition political parties received only 6% of total votes and captured 268 municipal seats. The Movement of Socialist Democrats won 107 seats; the Popular Unity Party won 88 seats; the Unionist Democratic Union won 51 seats; and the Social-Liberal Party won 16 seats. The independent list supported by the "Greens" won 6 seats. Three licensed opposition parties were not allowed to participate in the elections because their candidates did not meet the conditions of the elections law, according to the minister of interior.

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National Referenda

A national referendum was held in Tunisia on 26 May 2002 to approve a set of constitutional amendments altering 38 of the 78 articles of the constitution. Voter turnout was around 96%, and votes in favor of the amendments represented 99.52 % of the total number of votes cast. The new constitution abolished the term limits on the presidency and extended the age of eligibility from 70 to 75. It also established an upper house for parliament, the Chamber of Councilors, making the formerly unicameral legislature into a bicameral one. The reform also broadened civil liberties, among other things enshrining tolerance and human rights in the constitution, requiring judicial approval for all ‘preventative’ detentions and providing a guarantee of humane treatment for prisoners. On another note, the article that formerly obligated all citizens to participate in national defense was expanded to require all citizens to defend Tunisia’s independence, national sovereignty and integrity. Activists fear that the new wording could potentially be used against Tunisians who criticize the regime and its policies in domestic or foreign publications.

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