Reflecting on Election Dispute Resolution for Tunisia’s Upcoming Local Elections
On September 29, 2015, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), in collaboration with Tunisia’s Administrative Tribunal and with support from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affair (FDFA), organized a workshop on the electoral dispute resolution process for the forthcoming municipal and regional elections, which are tentatively scheduled for October 30, 2016.
The main goal of the roundtable was to launch a debate over which jurisdictions should be responsible for adjudicating complaints from the municipal and regional elections, and to review the experience of the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections and the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections in order to identify which aspects of the existing legislation should be amended to enhance the efficiency of adjudication mechanisms. This workshop took place at a time when the Tunisian government is in the process of drafting a new electoral law for the municipal and regional elections, which will include mechanisms for electoral dispute resolution.
To foster an inclusive approach, participants included administrative judges, judges of the courts of first instance, representatives of the Independent High Authority for Elections (or Instance Supérieure Indépendente pour les Élections [ISIE]), representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the legal adviser to the Head of the Government, representatives of the General Legislation Committee of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, academics, and experts. In total, the workshop gathered 36 participants.
The seminar was opened by Mohamed Faouzi Ben Hammed, First President of the Administrative Tribunal; Chafik Sarsar, President of the ISIE; Siri Walt, Adviser to the Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation; and Nicolas Kaczorowski, IFES Tunisia Country Director.
The first session of the workshop dealt with evaluating electoral dispute resolution during the 2014 elections, which created the foundation for discussions during the second and third sessions. These sessions focused on the adjudication mechanisms that should be established for the municipal and regional elections in order to respond to their decentralized nature, the greater number of candidate lists and electoral constituencies, as well as the potential for a higher number of complaints. The sessions also focused on how to ensure easy access to judicial remedy for candidates while safeguarding the timely, professional and efficient resolution of complaints. The last session delved into procedural aspects before the rapporteur delivered his summary of conclusions and recommendations.
All participants commended the work of the Administrative Tribunal during the 2014 elections. One recurring question, however, was whether the Administrative Tribunal is equipped to handle all complaints that will emerge from the municipal and regional elections, given that it is located in Tunis, and does not have regional branches. A related question was whether the judiciary courts should also play a role in electoral dispute resolution, or whether only administrative judges should adjudicate electoral complaints.
Despite divergent opinions on this issue, participants agreed on a number of recommendations such as extending the deadlines for appeals from three to five days in order to allow sufficient time for plaintiffs to assemble the necessary documents. Similarly, participants suggested extending the time given to judges to pronounce their judgments from three to five days so that they will have adequate time to thoroughly investigate cases. Participants also pointed out recurring deficiencies with regards to notifying plaintiffs of the courts’ decisions. Finally, all agreed that training programs should be established to prepare judges to adjudicate complaints in conformity with the regulatory and legislative framework and taking into account international good practices.
The workshop provided an opportunity to launch a thorough discussion of the handling of complaints during the forthcoming municipal and regional elections, and to positively impact the content of the draft electoral law. This event was funded through the Swiss FDFA. As part of funding focused on electoral dispute resolution, IFES will continue to work with various stakeholders to strengthen the adjudication of complaints for the upcoming municipal and regional elections, in particular by reinforcing the capacity of judges to handle electoral complaints in an efficient and timely manner.