x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tunisian parliament's debate on draft constitution suspended amid chaotic scenes

Tunisia's first parliamentary debate on the draft constitution suspended, with tensions between the ruling Islamists and their opponents flaring over the long-delayed text.

TUNIS // Tunisia's first parliamentary debate on the draft constitution was suspended on Monday amid chaotic scenes in the National Assembly, with tensions between the ruling Islamists and their opponents flaring over the long-delayed text.

The North African country's political stability remains fragile two and a half years after the revolution that ousted former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, adding urgency to the need for the new text.

But the midmorning debate was suspended after less than 30 minutes when the presentation by the head of the drafting committee, Islamist MP Habib Kheder, was interrupted by opposition MPs who accuse him of introducing controversial articles in a discretionary manner.

Before the debate, a handful of secular opposition MPs had also issued a statement criticising the "fraudulent process that has affected the works of the constituent committees." Several hundred people also protested against the draft constitution outside the National Assembly, which has been repeatedly criticised for its inefficiency and the non-attendance of members.

Despite ongoing disagreements, a relatively wide consensus appears to have been forged on the division of executive powers between the president and the prime minister, which was at the centre of a major political tussle.

The new constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament or be put to a referendum before a calendar can be drawn up for fresh elections.