UN Development Program Supports Democratic Constitution Project in Tunisia
- Specific Topics
- Constitutional Reform
- Citizenship & Role of Citizens
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Targeted Demographics
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
- General Agreement/Consensus
- Opinion Survey
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Report
- Public Hearings/Meetings
The United Nations Development Program supported citizen engagement and consultation, consciously making an effort to include women and youth, on a new democratic Tunisian constitution, which was successfully adopted by the nation's constituent assembly in 2014.
Problems and Purpose
From 2012 to 2015, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) supported several participatory initiatives to engage Tunisian citizens and the newly elected Assembly Members in consultative and capacity building activities during and after the adoption of the country’s new democratic constitution.
Background History and Context
Tunisia's democratic transition after the 2011 revolution has proven the most successful of those deriving from the Arab Spring. The UNDP has supported the democratization process for the entire period, assisting the National Constituent Assembly with the constitutional process and parliamentary reform. One of the three main objectives of the UNDP effort was "to support the NCA in organising and leading an open and participative constitutional process", enabling meaningful civic participation in the process . The new Constitution was approved by an overwhelming majority of the National Constituent Assembly on January 26 2014, and was signed and promulgated at a ceremony held at the Assembly the next day .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The organizing entities were the UNDP and Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly. UNDP supported Tunisia's constitutional process and parliamentary reform with a very broad set of initiatives, among which one component was the participatory one. The overall UNDP support project was financed through the contributions of Japan, Belgium, the European Union, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, as well as UNDP, for a total budget of $18,621,920 (implemented throughout more than 2 years) .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Approximately 5,000 citizens directly participated in these consultations . Dialogue sessions were held in the country's 24 governorates, as well as in various countries with significant populations of the Tunisian diaspora (France, Italy, etc.). These public meetings were open to all citizens, although participants were asked to register in advance due to limited space. Also, 320 students representing the various Tunisian universities participated in a number of dialogue sessions on the draft Constitution .
Methods and Tools Used
According to the UNDP, its Constitutional Support Project various courses of action were taken to encourage a democratic and participatory drafting and adoption of a constitution. The UNDP's approach  included:
- Supporting the Assembly in its leadership of an open and participatory constitutional process
- Developing dialogue mechanisms to ensure citizen and civil society input into both the new constitution and social and economic policy making more generally
- Strengthening the Assembly’s institutional capacities
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
During the course of 2012 and 2013, UNDP supported a dialogue process between the members of the National Constituent Assembly, citizens and civil society organizations in Tunisia's 24 governorates . One one side, these activities involved 80 members of the Assembly, who benefited from training on legislative and constitutional drafting and public consultation techniques. On the other side, more than 5,000 citizens, 300 civil society organizations and 320 university representatives gave their contributions during the course of the dialogue. The meetings with students from Tunisian universities, which were organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education, enabled the National Constituent Assembly to establish a framework for discussions with young people and to gather their specific expectations of the constitutional process.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
According to UNDP sources, the constitution evolved substantially as a result of the input provided by citizens both through this formal process of consultation and through informal lobbying. As the drafts of the constitution advanced, there was a general shift towards adopting international best practices particularly in terms of human rights, reflected for example in Article 46 on gender rights and in article 49 on limitations on freedoms.
In parallel, a deliberate effort to include women in the political process proved effective in terms of the participation of women, both in the public consultations and in parliamentary representation. This was achieved by training 4,200 women and sensitizing them on democratic processes, such as the constitutional process, transitional justice, prevention of violence and citizenship . The initiative contributed to the historic increase in the political participation of women, reflected in the increase in the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women from 2.6% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2013 .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The major highlight of this participatory process was the nature of what was at stake: the drafting of a new constitution to ensure the democratization of a country that had been under the rule of an authoritarian regime since the 1980s. The historic transcendence of this process ensured that public interest was high, so the civic engagement initiatives facilitated by UNDP were very meaningful. At the same time, this gains importance given that citizens inputs are considered to have influenced the constitutional debate substantially.
Another highlight was the scale of the project, both in terms of participants (5,000 citizens is a major achievement) and of geographic reach (given that the public consultations happened in Tunisia's 24 governorates and in countries with significant Tunisian diasporas). But given the relatively high penetration of internet access in Tunisia, it would have been good to incorporate online venues for civic participation, to scale even more the amount of citizens engaged.
In terms of lessons learned, one of the most significant ones was the confirmation of the importance of ensuring meaningful engagement of public officials, to guarantee that civic input is truly taken into account. This was successfully achieved by the significant involvement of 80 members of the National Constituent Assembly in the public consultations.
Another set of lessons derives from the focus of this participatory process in two demographic groups that tend to be overlooked In most participatory initiatives: youth and women. On one hand, the effort to include 320 university students from Tunisian universities was successful mainly because of the partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education, but could have been enhanced by the inclusion of disadvantaged youth without access to higher education to make the civic input more representative. On the other hand, the parallel project focusing on gender equality proved to be a good and necessary complement, given the region’s track record in women rights. The political empowerment of women should be a crucial goal in all participatory innovations.
 United Nations Development Program (2014). Activity Report, Project of Support to Constitution-building in Tunisia
 United Nations Development Program (2014). New constitution: a historic landmark on journey to democracy for Tunisia
 United Nations Development Program (2014). Fast Facts: Civil Society and Civic Engagement in Arab States
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