By Iheb Ettounsi
Political reform suffered a blow in Tunisia late last week, when debates at the first meeting of a new commission turned into accusations and insults.
The High Commission for the Realisation of Revolutionary Goals, Political Reforms and Democratic Transition convened Thursday (March 17th) in Tunis to discuss the country’s move towards a democratic government, but the agenda quickly changed as attendees questioned the presence of supporters of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime. Also in question was the absence from the commission of representatives from certain provinces, young people and women.
Participants also expressed concern at the exclusion of some parties belonging to the January 14th Front, which was the first entity to request a council for the protection of the revolution with decision-making rights.
“I accept the criticisms that have been made against the commission, especially regarding the absence of young people, women and a number of parties,” said commission head Iyad ben Achour at the end of the meeting. “I hope that this will be fixed as soon as possible.”
Ben Achour stressed, however, that the failure of the commission “would threaten Tunisia”, and that concord was the most important thing for the future.
The commission, which consists of 12 parties, 42 national figures and 17 civil society and national organisations, was created February 18th under presidential decree. Its mission is to examine laws related to political organisation and to propose specific reforms in keeping with the demands of the revolution.
The institution is also expected to observe the conduct of the interim government and to draft legislation on the election of a constituent assembly on July 24th.
The commission was initially called the “High Committee for Political Reform”, but following pressure from the people, the January 14th Front and the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), was expanded and renamed to guarantee the protection of the people’s interests.
The transitional government has expressed its support of the commission. At the opening of Thursday’s meeting, interim President Foued Mebazaa said: “The state is keen on ensuring the independence of this commission and not intervening in its work.”
He added: “I hope that the members will make the best choices to ensure that legal provisions are established that respond to the aspirations of Tunisians about a real democratic transition.”
In his turn, Sofiene Chourabi, President of the Political Awareness Association, told Magharebia: “I think that there are many question marks about the absence of young people and their representatives in the composition of the High Commission. The young Tunisians who managed to achieve what the previous generations had failed to achieve – toppling Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime – are now qualified to take part in charting the country’s political future.”
For Ahmed Rahmouni, President of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates, the concern is not so much about the make-up of the commission but about its relevance.
“We fear that this commission will be bypassed and turned into a façade to beautify policies not made by the commission itself,” he said.
Findings in the examination of the commission’s work and related projects are due out this week.