Constitutional Democratic Rally

views updated


tunisian government political party, formerly the neodestour party.

Tunisian nationalists formed the Destour Party in 1920. In 1934, the Ksar Hellal Congress consecrated the rupture between the Néo and Archéo sectors of the Destour under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba and Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Thaalbi respectively. Bourguiba and other younger members of the party formed the Neo-Destour Party, which would successfully lead the national struggle for independence. The French authorities made the party illegal in 1938. In 1964, the party changed its name to Parti Socialiste Destourien (Destourian Socialist Party, PSD). Between 1963 and 1981, the PSD was the only legal political formation in Tunisia. The presidency was held by Mahmoud Materi (19341938); Habib Thameur (19391948); and Bourguiba (19491987).

The structure of the PSD reflected a highly hierarchical division: The National Congress, comprising around a thousand members, met every five years. Below were the party's political bureau (the executive organ of the party), a central committee composed of eighty members, the regional coordinating committees, local circumscriptions, and cells. Bourguiba, heading the party in a highly personal fashion, transformed the Neo-Destour into a grass-roots populist party grounded in the Sahel middle class. Prior to independence, Neo-Destourians worked closely with Moroccan and Algerian nationalists. Following independence, the Neo-Destour won the first elections in 1956. A year later, the party won the first local elections in which Tunisian women were allowed to vote, with more than 90 percent of the vote.

The Neo-Destour worked closely with the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (General Confederation of Tunisian Workers; later the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens, UGTT), staging numerous demonstrations, riots, and strikes. Salah Ben Yusuf, the Neo-Destour's secretary-general, fled to Egypt in 1952. Under the influence of Jamal Abd alNasir's pan-Arab nationalism, he opposed Bourguiba's gradualist, pragmatic approach toward independence. Ben Yusuf opposed the Paris agreements that had abrogated the Al Marsa Convention of 1883, and upon his return to Tunisia broke with Bourguiba and contested his authority within the Neo-Destour Party. He would eventually return to Cairo to lead a leftist opposition movement from exile until his assassination in 1961.

The introduction of Destourian socialism in 1961 consecrated the party's central role in the state policy of economic interventionism. Following independence, economic reforms led to a decline in the party's influence as a mass movement. Bourguiba's reorganization of the party in 1963 followed the proscription of the Parti Communiste Tunisien (Tunisian Communist Party, PCT; later known as Movement of Renewal). The 1964 congress endorsed centralized state planning, and the party was renamed the Parti Socialiste Destourien (Destourian Socialist Party, PSD). Single-party rule effectively consecrated the fusion of party and state in Tunisia. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, popular discontent with land collectivization and internal divisions within the party led to the expulsion of Ahmed Ben Salah, architect of the centralized state planning strategy and the decolonialization of the Tunisian economy.

The 1971 party congress signaled a new rift between the supporters of economic liberalization and the supporters political liberalization, headed by Ahmad Mestiri, while social unrest kept growing. In 1981, Islamist dissidents formed the Mouvement de Tendance Islamique (Islamic Tendency Movement), and student organizations in combination with workers' movements weakened the influence of the PSD. Other political organizations such as the Mouvement de l'Unité Populaire (Movement of Popular Unity) and the PCT remained very critical of PSD policies. During the extraordinary congress of 1981, the PSD approved a shift toward limited political pluralism while firmly excluding the Islamists from the political process.

On 7 November 1987, Zayn al-Abidine Ben Ali, then prime minister and secretary-general of the PSD, deposed President Bourguiba. In February 1988, the PSD was renamed Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (Constitutional Democratic Rally, RCD), and Ben Ali was elected president of the RCD during the party's first congress on July 1988. The second congress (1993) confirmed the shift toward complete economic liberalization. In the 1994 presidential elections, Ben Ali ran for office unopposed. In 1999, he was reelected for a third term with 99.4 percent of the vote, running against Mohamed Belhadj Amour and Abderrahmane Tlili. In accordance with changes made to the electoral code, the RCD currently holds 148 seats in the Tunisian parliament; the opposition parties hold 34 seats. The RCD maintains a strong grip on the political system, amidst increasing popular discontent. Hailed as a model of economic development and liberalization in the United States and the European Union, the government's continuous and often unreported human rights violations, its curtailment of freedom of the press, and its arbitrary imprisonment of members of leftist and Islamist organizations remain the source of harsh criticism.

see also ben ali, zayn al-abidine; ben salah, ahmed; bourguiba, habib; mestiri, ahmad; movement of renewal; thaalbi, abd al-aziz; union gÉnÉrale des travailleurs tunisiens (ugtt).


Nelson, Harold D., ed. Tunisia: A Country Study, 3d edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.

Perkins, Kenneth J. Historical Dictionary of Tunisia. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1989.

Salem, Norma. Habib Bourguiba, Islam, and the Creation of Tunisia, 2d edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

Waltz, Susan E. Human Rights and Reform: Changing the Face of North African Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Zartman, I. William, ed. Tunisia: The Political Economy of Reform. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1991.

Vanesa Casanova-Fernandez

About this article

Constitutional Democratic Rally

Updated About content Print Article


Constitutional Democratic Rally