Tunisia: Political Parties in

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Tunisia has eleven active political parties.

There are eight legal political parties in Tunisia, including the government party. There are also three parties that have not been authorized: the Popular Unity Movement (Mouvement de L'Unité Populaire; MUP), a socialist party founded by Ahmed Ben Salah, former planning minister who fled Tunisia in 1973; the Tunisian Communist Workers Party (Parti Ouvrier Communiste Tunisien; POCT), a Maoist group; and the Renaissance Party (Hizb al-Nahda in Arabic), the party of Islamists, founded by Rashid Ghannushi. The legal parties are the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Ralliement Constitutionnel Démocratique; RCD), the Movement of Socialist Democrats (Mouvement des Dèmocrates Socialistes; MDS), the Popular Unity Party (Parti D'Unité Populaire; PUP), the Movement of Renewal (Harakat al-Tajdid), the Progressive
Democratic Party (Parti démocrate progressiste; PDP), the Unionist Democratic Union (Union Démocratique Unioniste; UDU), the Socialist Liberal Party (Parti Socialiste Liberale; PSL), and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Freedoms (Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés; FDTL).


The RCD has dominated all governmental institutions since Tunisia's independence in 1956. The party was founded by Habib Bourguiba and others in 1934 as the Neo-Destour. They broke away from the Destour (Constitution) Party, established by Abd al-Aziz Thaalbi in 1920. Bourguiba's group felt that the Destour had become too elitist and sought to build a grassroots party that could appeal to the rural and small-town folk that the Destour failed to represent. In 1964 the party changed its name to Socialist Destour Party (Parti Socialist Destourien; PSD). The party's final name change occurred in 1988, when the party congress adopted the name Constitutional Democratic Rally. This expressed the new direction of the government party following a coup that replaced Bourguiba with Zayn al-Abidine Ben Ali. Moderate and pragmatic, the RCD has opened up the political system to multiple parties and has attempted to refashion a market economy to replace the earlier centralized socialist planning system. President Ben Ali is party president, and Ali Chaouch occupies the post of secretary-general. The party claims over 1.5 million members, distributed in thousands of cells nationwide. It controls the national parliament (Chamber of Deputies).


Ahmad Mestiri, formerly a member of the ruling party, founded the MDS in 1978 and welded the new party into the largest opposition to the RCD. With its forty thousand members, the MDS offers almost the same program as the RCD, except that it is more Arab nationalist and socialist. Ismaïl Boulahya is secretary-general.


Headed by Mohamed Belhaj Amor, the PUP offers a nationalist and socialist program. It splintered off from the MUP in 1981 and in 1985 it was renamed the Parti d'Unité Populaire (PUP). Amor was succeeded in 2000 by Mohamed Bouchiha.

Movement of Renewal

Secretary-General Mohamed Harmel is a longtime Communist Party activist. The Movement adopted the name Mouvement Ettajdid (Arabic, Harakat al-Tajdid) in 1993, dropping the name Tunisian Communist Party (Parti Communiste Tunisien; PCT). It now follows a leftist, non-Marxist ideology that offers an alternative for leftists and intellectuals. It remains a small party whose membership numbers somewhere in the low thousands.


Nejib Chebbi, a lawyer, heads the Progressive Democratic Party, the former Socialist Progressive Rally (RSP), which has a nationalist and socialist emphasis. PDP leaders are willing to accommodate all nonviolent political viewpoints in national elections. The PDP seeks a broader role for Tunisia in Arab politics. Regarded as the most critical of the opposition parties, it did not gain any seats to the Chamber of Deputies in the legislative elections of 1999.


Abderrahmane Tlili founded the Unionist Democratic Union (UDU). It has close ties with the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT), the country's largest labor union. A high concentration of union members makes up UDU's constituency. UDU espouses both Arab nationalism and Israel-PLO peace talks.


In 1993 the Social Party for Progress (PSP) became the Socialist Liberal Party (PSL). Led by Mounir Beji, a lawyer, the PSL supports liberalism, economic privatization, and American foreign policy interests in the region. Despite being considered the weakest legal party, it obtained two deputies in the 1999 legislative elections.


Founded in 1994, the Democratic Forum for Labor and Freedoms (FDTL) was legalized in 2002. Its secretary-general, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, a former leader of the MDS, defines its ideology as social-democratic.

Since 1993, new laws have been implemented aimed at encouraging political pluralism. Accordingly, and as of 2003, the legal opposition parties share 34 seats, out of 182, in the Chamber of Deputies. The results of the legislative elections of 1999 were as follows: RCD, 148 deputies; MDS, 13; PUP, 7; UDU, 7; Ettajdid, 5; PSL, 2; PDP, 0.


Murphy, Emma. Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: From Bourguiba to Ben Ali. New York: St. Martin's Press in association with University of Durham, 1999.

Nelson, Harold D., ed. Tunisia: A Country Study, 3d edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986.

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

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

larry a. barrie
updated by ana torres-garcÍa