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Key aspects of Tunisia's new constitution

AFP , Sunday 26 Jan 2014
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Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly is to vote on the adoption of a new constitution Sunday, more than three years after the revolution that toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Lawmakers finished reviewing the text on Thursday after three weeks of heated debate on key issues, notably the place of Islam in the future constitution and women's rights.

If the document is passed, it would be a major step towards ending a protracted political crisis sparked by the killing of an opposition MP last year by suspected jihadist militants which eventually forced Islamist premier Ali Larayedh to resign.

The Islamists from Larayedh's Ennahda party, which headed the outgoing government, renounced previous demands to enshrine sharia Islamic law in the constitution. But the new document contains several references to religion, leaving certain parts open to interpretation.

The charter is written "in the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate", and the first article defines Tunisia as a "free, independent and sovereign state, with Islam as its religion", as did the 1959 document promulgated after independence.

Article 6, which guarantees "freedom of belief and conscience", says the state forbids any "attacks on the sacred", without elaborating.

It also includes a ban on "calls to charges for apostasy", a demand of the secular opposition, and the head of state must be a Muslim.

Executive power will be split between the prime minister, who will have the dominant role and answers to parliament, and the president, who is directly elected by the people.

The premier will decide the "general policy of the state", while the president will be responsible for "policies in the domains of defence, foreign relations and national security".

The president will not be able to dismiss the government, but will be able to put it to a vote of no confidence in the assembly. If the cabinet survives two such votes, the president will be forced to resign.

And the president can only dissolve the assembly if it fails to deliver a vote of confidence in a government within the timeframe stipulated in the constitution.

The constitution also defines the opposition as an "essential component" of the political process, and it will automatically be granted the presidency of the finance commission and the post of foreign relations rapporteur.

The main innovation in the section dealing with rights and freedoms is the commitment to bringing about gender "parity in the elected assembly", which would make Tunisia the only country in the Arab world to have that objective.

The charter also recognises gender equality "without discrimination" in Tunisia.

It also guarantees other key rights, including freedom of expression and association as well as a free press and the right to strike.

Freedom of belief and conscience are also enshrined, although several lawmakers argued against them during the review.

But some NGOs have voiced concerns over the "sub-constitutional" status given to international treaties, which they fear could pave the way for Tunisia's non-compliance with its international human rights obligations.

The new constitution does not abolish the death penalty.

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