The parliament of Republic of Tunisia is a bicameral legislature with an upper and a lower house. The Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwaab) is composed of 182 members, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term of office. Twenty percent of the seats are allocated to opposition parties in proportion to the votes they receive in elections. The Chamber of Councilors (Majlis al-Mustasharin) was created as part of sweeping constitutional changes in May 2002, and has yet to hold its first session as of early 2004. The constitution dictates that the number of members to the Chamber of Councilors shall be set every six years, and shall not exceed two-thirds of the number of members of the Chamber of Deputies. The membership of the upper house will come from three sources. Each governorate will have one or two representatives according to population, to be elected indirectly by the municipal councils. One-third of the members will be elected by trade unions and professional associations on a national level, and the final third of the members will be appointed by the president from among well-known personalities.
A motion of censure against the government may be initiated if it is signed by at least half of the membership of the Chamber of Deputies. The actual vote on censure may not take place before 48 hours elapse. The motion is adopted by two-thirds of the parliament. If the parliament adopts a second motion of censure within the same legislative period, the president of the republic either accepts the resignation of the government or dissolves the parliament, calling for new elections within 30 days. Only the Chamber of Deputies may introduce a motion of censure or require the members of the government to appear for questioning.
Following the legislative elections of 1994, the lower house of the Tunisian parliament became a pluralistic institution whose members include opposition representatives. Prior to the latest parliamentary elections in October 1999, changes in the electoral law made it possible for smaller parties that were unsuccessful to have representation in the parliament. The number of women in parliament has also increased from 11 to 21.
Sessions, Dissolution, State of Exception
The parliament shares legislative powers with the president of the republic. It meets each year in ordinary sessions, beginning in October and ending in July. The Chamber of Deputies elects its own president by secret majority vote of members for a one-year term. If the presidency of the republic falls vacant, the President of the Chamber of Deputies takes charge of state affairs temporarily for a period of 45 to 60 days. The current president of the parliament is Fouad Mebazaa. The secretary general is Farouk Aouadi.
Committee Structures and Membership
The parliament also elects permanent committees from among its members. During the vacation of the parliament, the president may, with the consent of the interested permanent committee, issue decree-laws, which must be submitted to the ratification by the parliament during the next ordinary session.
Legislative Drafting Processes
During its regular sessions parliament passes laws by absolute majority. Bills may be initiated either by the Chamber of Deputies or by the president. Bills introduced by the president are debated and voted on simultaneously in both houses. Bills initiated by the Chamber of Deputies must pass before being introduced into the Chamber of Councilors. The upper house cannot introduce legislation. In the case of substantive differences between bills passed by the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councilors, a committee is formed with representatives from each in order to resolve the differences. If no agreement can be reached, the version adopted by the Chamber of Deputies is submitted to the president. In the legislative process priority is given to bills presented by the president. The president of the republic may return a bill to the parliament for a second reading. If the bill is adopted by the parliament with a majority of two-thirds of its members, the law is promulgated and published within a second period of fifteen days. The law is published in the Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic within a maximum period of fifteen days, counting from the transmission by the president of the parliament. The parliament may authorize the president to issue decree-laws within a fixed time limit and for a specific purpose, but they must be submitted for ratification to the parliament upon expiration of that time limit.
The Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in Charge of Human Rights, Communications, and Relations with the Chamber of Deputies coordinates the relationship between the executive and the legislative branches and oversees the parliament. No deputy can be arrested or prosecuted for the duration of his mandate. But in the event of flagrant crime the parliament may lift his/her immunity. The detention of a deputy may be suspended if the parliament so requests.
The Tunisian parliament is a member of both the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU).