Tunisia - Political parties

The Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) dominates the country's political life. Its leader from its founding as the Neo-Destour Party in 1934 to 1987 was Habib Bourguiba. In the first national elections, in 1956, all 98 seats in the Constituent Assembly were won by the National Union, a united front of the Neo-Destour Party with the UGTT, the National Union of Tunisian Farmers, and the Tunisian Union of Craftsmen and Merchants. In the November 1959 elections for the National Assembly, the Communist Party (Parti Communiste Tunisien) presented a list of 13 candidates in Tunis and Gafsa; elsewhere, the Neo-Destour Party was unopposed, and the ruling party won all 90 seats at stake. From 1959 to 1994, the RCD (acting in 1981 as part of a National Front with the UGTT) held a monopoly of Assembly seats.

Banned in 1963, the Communist Party was the first opposition group to be fully legalized under the political liberalization of 1981. Two other parties, the Movement of Social Democrats (Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes) and the Movement (or Party) of Popular Unity (Mouvement (Parti) de l'Unité Populaire), failed to retain their provisional authorization when each fell short of receiving a 5% share of the total vote in the November 1981 election but nevertheless were formally legalized in 1983. The principal Islamist party, An Nahda, has been outlawed. In 1992, it was hit hard by the jailing of many of its senior leaders.

Due to a change in the 1994 electoral code to guarantee the opposition would win seats, opposition parties such as the Movement of Social Democrats (MDS) entered the Chamber of Deputies. As a result of the October 1999 legislative elections, there are five officially recognized opposition parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies: Movement of Social Democrats (MDS) holding 13 seats; Unionist Democratic Union (UDU) holding 7 seats; Party of People's Unity (PUP) holding 7 seats; Movement for Renewal (MR), the communist party, holding 5 seats; and the Social-Liberal Party holding 2 seats. The RCD held 148 of the 182 seats as of 1999. The Islamist an-Nahda remains an outlawed party. The At-Tajdid Movement is a sixth legally recognized political party, although it is not represented in the legislature.

In October 2002, an eighth political party in Tunisia was legally recognized, joining the 6 other opposition parties aligned against the RCD. Called the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, it was headed by Dr. Mustapha Ben Jaafar. Legislative elections are next set for 2004.

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