Tunisia assembly approves new constitution

Photo:  Tunisia assembly approves new constitution  / Arab World

Tunisia's national assembly has approved the country's new constitution, three years after the overthrow of the North African country's long-time ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali Al Jazeera reported.

Sunday's vote by an overwhelming majority of assembly members marks another crucial step to getting the democratic transition back on track in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

The vote came close on the heels of an announcement by Mehdi Jomaa, the prime minister, of a new caretaker cabinet to govern the country until elections.

The new constitution, seen as one of the most progressive in the region, guarantees equal rights for men and women.

It also demands that the state protect the environment and tackle corruption.

Executive power is also divided between the prime minister, who will have the dominant role, and the president, who retains important prerogatives, notably in defence and foreign affairs.

Islam is not mentioned as a source of legislation, although it is recognised as the nation's religion and the state is committed to "prohibiting any attacks on the sacred", while freedom of conscience is guaranteed.

Earlier, members of parliament amended three articles in the draft text, before ratifying changes to the rules of the assembly's confidence vote, to facilitate the appointment of the caretaker cabinet which must win parliamentary backing.

But there has been criticism that the constitution has not banned the death penalty. There are also restrictions on freedom of speech, and attacking religion and accusing people of being nonbelievers is illegal.

Technocrats appointed

In the new government, Hakim Ben Hammouda, an economist with experience at the African Development Bank, will be the finance minister while Mongi Hamdi, a former UN official, will be the foreign minister.

Jomaa, a technocrat, was appointed in December after the ruling Islamist Ennahda party agreed to step down in a deal with secular opponents to end a political crisis.

"The objective is to arrive at elections and create the security and economic climate to get out of this crisis," Jomaa said in Tunis.

Tunisia's progress to approve a new constitution stands in contrast to turmoil in Libya, Egypt and Yemen which also toppled leaders in 2011 uprisings.

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, said Tunisians see Jomaa as a unifier - someone who can hold the country together until new elections are held.

"All these political wrangling seems to be over for now," she said.

No date has been set for elections though they are due this year.

One of the most secular countries in the Arab World, Tunisia struggled after its 2011 revolt with divisions over the role of Islam and the rise of ultra-conservative Salafists, who secularists feared would try to roll back liberal rights.

The new government will have to tackle demands from international lenders to cut public spending and curb the budget deficit without triggering protests over social welfare.

Armed groups tied to al-Qaeda operations in North Africa are also an increasing threat for a country that relies heavily on European tourism and overseas remittances for its hard-currency income.

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