Tunisia agrees new charter’s chapter on judiciary

These articles are particularly sensitive in a country that only recently emerged from five decades of dictatorship

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Tunisia’s parliament ratified Friday a crucial chapter in the new constitution defining the powers of the judiciary, and began examining the 30 articles that remain before it can be adopted.

After approving articles on the creation and prerogatives of the constitutional court, they completed the chapter on the judiciary, defining the legal profession as “free and independent, and which participates in the realization of justice and the defense of rights and freedoms.”

These articles are particularly sensitive in a country that only recently emerged from five decades of dictatorship, and sparked angry exchanges and chaotic scenes in parliament when they were debated earlier this week.

Later on Friday MPs resumed their scrutiny of the charter, and the remaining 30 articles.

After lengthy negotiations, a compromise was reached on the five “constitutional bodies” stipulated in the new charter, which include the electoral commission, and others responsible for human rights, the fight against corruption, audiovisual media and sustainable development.

These will be tasked with “working to strengthen democracy” and will have financial and administrative autonomy.

The assembly is pushing ahead with adoption of the long-delayed new constitution, examining it article by article, as required before a vote on the whole text can take place.

A two-thirds majority of parliament’s 217 elected members is then needed to adopt the charter and avoid it being put to a referendum.

Often sharp differences between the majority Islamist Ennahda party and the secular opposition have repeatedly obstructed the process, which was due to be completed by January 14, the third anniversary of the revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Adopting the new constitution is seen as key to getting Tunisia’s democratic transition back on track, after a political crisis triggered by the assassination of an opposition MP last year by suspected Islamist militants.

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