On the 7th November 2001, the 14th anniversary of his arrival to the presidency of Tunisia, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali announced a reform of the Constitution, notably creating a second chamber in order to widen the representation of the regions and of the various elements of society, « so that the legislative function - and political life in general - would improve ».
The constitutional amendement was adopted by referendum on the 26th May 2002.
The first elections were held on 3 July 2005, and the first appointments by the President of the Republic took place on 1 August 2005.
In 2011, as a result of the ouster of Ben-Ali, a constiuent assembly was elected to power with a general election scheduled for October 2013.
I - COMPOSITION
The number of councillors shall not exceed two-thirds of the number of members in the Chamber of Deputies (currently 189).
2/3 of the councillors are elected by indirect suffrage, by members elected in the local authorities.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
- Some councillors (43 seats) are elected regionally among elected members of local authorities, namely one or two for each governorate;
- 1/3 of councillors (42 seats) are elected nationally among employers, farmers and wage earners. Candidates are proposed by professional organizations on lists that shall comprise at least twice as many seats reserved to each category. Seats are evenly divided among the concerned sectors;
- The other councillors (41 seats) are designated by the President of the Republic among personalities and national competent people.
- Term of office: 6 years, one half of the members are renewed every 3 years.
- Age of eligibility: 40 years old.
First elections: 3 July 2005, without the participation of UGTT (professional employees' organization whose 14 seats are vacant).
First appointments: 1 August 2005.
III - SYSTEM OF SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
One annual ordinary session that begins during October and terminates during July (when the Chamber is renewed, the session begins during the fortnight following its election).
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
At the request of the President of the Republic or the majority of deputies, according to a specific agenda.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
The legislative competence of the House of councillors is general, except on the authorization to ratify international treaties.
1) Legislative initiative
No (vested in the President of the Republic together with deputies).
2) Right of amendment
Nevertheless, amendments shall not be accepted when their adoption should have entailed the reduction of public income, or the increase or creation of public expenditure.
3) Legislative procedure
a) Ordinary procedure
The range of legislation is enumerated with restrictions. The President of the Republic may refuse the admissibility to any draft bill or amendment concerning the statutory range of legislation. The Constitutional Council shall decide on the question within a maximum of 10 days from its reception.
In each chamber, texts shall be adopted with a majority of the members who are present; such a majority should not be less than one third of the members of the concerned chamber.
Bills presented by the President of the Republic shall have priority.
The Chamber of Councillors shall examine the bills passed by the Chamber of Deputies within 15 days.
If the text is not adopted by this deadline, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies shall transmit the text adopted by deputies to the President of the Republic for signature.
If the Chamber of Councillors adopts a text without modifying it, the Speaker shall submit it to the President of the Republic for signature and shall inform the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies about it.
If it modifies it, the Speaker shall submit the text to the President of the Republic and shall inform the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies about it.
A joint committee, created on proposal of the government, shall be in charge of elaborating, within one week, a common text approved by the government on controversial issues between both chambers.
In case of an agreement, such a text shall be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies that shall finally decide within one week. However, the text can only be amended after its approval by the Government. The bill shall then be transferred to the President of the Republic for signature.
If the deadline failed to be respected, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies shall submit the bill the chamber has previously adopted to the President of the Republic for signature.
When the text is presented by a parliamentarian, there shall be no deadline for the Chamber of Councillors to examine it in first reading.
Recess shall adjourn deadlines in both chambers.
b) Budget procedure
Finance bills shall be submitted to both chambers.
If the Chamber of Councillors has not passed the finance bill of the year by 31 December - unlike the Chamber of Deputies - it then shall be submitted to the President of the Republic for signature.
If both chambers have not given their decisions at the same date, the bill's provisions shall be implemented by decree, as renewable quarterly groups of provisions.
c) Special provisions relating to organic laws
Deputies and Councillors shall adopt organic laws with an absolute majority of the Chambers' members.
d) Enabling legislation
- Both chambers may enable the President of the Republic, for a limited period and in a specific purpose, to take government decrees he shall submitto the Chamber of Deputies or both chambers for approval, after this period and depending on the circumstances.
- When the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councillors are in recess, the President of the Republic may take government decrees subsequently submitted to the Chamber of Deputies or both chambers for approval, depending on the circumstances, during the ordinary session following the recess.
- When the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies is pronounced after the adoption of a motion of censure against the Government, the President of the Republic may take government decrees subsequently submitted to ratification by the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councillors, depending on the circumstances.
B - CONTROLLING POWER
C - RELATIONS WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The President of the Republic elected shall swear an oath before the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councillors, joined in a common sitting.
The President of the Republic shall communicate with chambers directly or through messages.
c) Special measures
In case of imminent danger threatening the Republic's institutions, the safety and the independence of the country, and affecting the normal functioning of public authorities, the President of the Republic may take special measures required by the circumstances after consulting the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Councillors.
Such measures shall terminate as soon as the circumstances that had provoked them end. The President of the Republic shall then deliver a message to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Chamber of Councillors.
d) Temporary impeachment
In case of temporary impeachment, the President of the Republic may delegate its attributions (except the dissolution power) to the Prime Minister. (He shall inform the Speakers of both Chambers).
V - MISCELLANEAOUS PROVISIONS
A - CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROL
1) Standing orders of both chambers are submitted to the Constitutional Council before their implementation.
2) President of the Republic's bills shall be submitted to the Constitutional Council before being transferred to the Chamber of Deputies.
B - INTERIM OF THE PRESIDENCY
In case of interim of the presidency of the Republic because of death, resignation or absolute impeachment, the Constitutional Council shall immediately meet and ascertain the definitive vacancy with an absolute majority of its members. It shall submit a declaration thereon to the Speaker of the Chamber of Councillors and to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who shall immediately be invested with the functions of the interim Presidency of the State, for a period ranging from forty-five to sixty days. If the definitive vacancy coincides with the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, the Speaker of the Chamber of Councillors shall be invested with the functions of the interim Presidency of the State for the same period.
The interim President of the Republic shall swear the constitutional oath before the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Councillors joined in a common sitting and, if need be, before the bureaus of both Chambers. If the definitive vacancy coincides with the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, the interim President of the Republic shall swear the constitutional oath before the Chamber of Councillors and, if need be, before its bureau.