On Sunday, December 24, 2023, for the first time, Tunisian voters will elect 2,155 members for a five-year term who will sit in 279 local councils. They will be elected in a majoritarian system over two rounds. In each council, one representative of persons with disabilities will be selected by drawing a lot. Local councils are not specifically mentioned in the 2022 Constitution. Furthermore, the prerogatives and responsibilities of these councils are not known and were not clarified in the run-up to the 24 December election. Neither the Constitution nor any laws specify the mandate and powers of these local councils, how they differ from the 350 municipal councils, or how the two will interact with each other. This election is nevertheless critical as they are the first step towards the appointment of the next level up - regional and district councils as well as the establishment of the upper chamber, the National Council for Regions and Districts, all indirectly elected or selected by lot. The new system of governance is complex and constitutes a radical change from the institutions that have been established since 2014.
Ahead of this important electoral process, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) provides Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Elections in Tunisia: 2023 Local Elections.
Additionally, visit IFES's Election Guide for the most comprehensive and timely verified election information available online.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The 2022 Constitution does not mention local councils. The president of the Republic of Tunisia signed the Decree Law on March 8, 2023, to establish councils at the delegation (Moutamdya) level and define the way members are elected. Tunisia comprises 279 delegations, each of which will now have a directly elected council. However, the prerogatives and responsibilities of the councils are not known. Neither the Constitution nor any laws specify the mandate and powers of the local councils, how they will differ from Tunisia’s 350 municipal councils, or how they will interact with each other.
Tunisian voters will directly elect the members of the 279 local councils to five-year terms. Each local council will consist of members elected directly by citizens. In addition, one council member representing persons with disabilities will be selected by lot. Relevant ministries will also appoint non-voting members of each local council to represent local authorities.
Tunisian voters will elect members of 279 local councils on December 24, 2023. On the same day, the Election Commission will draw lots to select persons with disabilities, for whom a set number of seats are reserved, to serve on local councils.
The election of local councils is a critical step toward the indirect election of the National Council of Regions and Districts (CNRD), a new body established by the 2022 Constitution as the upper chamber of Tunisia’s Parliament. Once elected, each local council will conduct a drawing to designate one of its members for a seat on the next-level council at the regional (governorate) level for three months. The quarterly rotation of membership in the regional councils will not impact the composition of the next-level councils. Then each of the 24 regional councils will elect from its membership a representative to the next-level district council to which it is territorially attached. Finally, the 77 members of the CNRD will be elected indirectly: Members of the regional councils and one representative elected by her or his peers from the five district councils will elect three representatives (see the infographic below).
Tunisia’s Constitution, adopted by referendum on July 25, 2022, does not include any specific rules for local elections. The rules applicable to local elections are based mainly on two pieces of legislation. These are Decree-Law No. 2023-10 of March 8, 2023, Organic Law No. 2014-16 of May 26, 2014, on elections and referendums, as amended and supplemented by subsequent texts and in particular by Decree-Law No. 2023-8 of March 8, 2023 (known as the Electoral Law). Decree-Law No. 2023-10 regulates the election of local councils and the composition of regional councils and district councils. The Election Commission has also issued a number of regulatory decisions applicable to local council elections.
Tunisia’s High Independent Election Commission (ISIE) organizes and supervises elections and referenda. It has overall responsibility for the integrity and transparency of the electoral process.
The ISIE consists of a decision-making body (the board) and an executive body (the executive secretariat). As mandated by amendment of the ISIE law by Decree-Law No. 2022-22 of April 21, 2022, the board consists of seven members, including the president, whom the president of the Republic appoints for non-renewable four-year terms. The seven ISIE board members are appointed by presidential decree and selected as follows:
- Three members chosen from the members of previous electoral bodies;
- One judicial judge with at least 10 years of seniority, from three candidates proposed by the Council of the Judiciary;
- One administrative judge with at least 10 years of seniority, chosen from three candidates proposed by the Council of the Administrative Judiciary:
- One financial judge with at least 10 years of seniority, from three candidates proposed by the Financial Judicial Council; and
- One computer security engineer with at least 10 years of seniority, chosen from three candidates proposed by the National Center for Informatics.
However, the current composition of the ISIE does not comply with Article 134 of the 2022 Constitution. Article 134 states that the ISIE must be composed of nine independent, neutral, competent, and honest members who carry out their mission for a non-renewable six-year term. The board bases its decisions on the majority vote of members present; the board’s president casts a vote in the event of a tie.
The executive secretariat consists of several departments that manage all administrative, financial, and technical matters under the authority of the ISIE president. It is headed by an executive director appointed by and accountable to the board president.
The ISIE’s 27 permanent regional administrations are headed by regional directors and report to the executive secretariat. In addition to regional administrations, the ISIE board may appoint regional election commissions (commonly known as IRIEs) for each election. Each IRIE has three members appointed by the ISIE board. IRIEs are temporary bodies without decision-making power or independence. They exercise functions expressly delegated to them by the ISIE board.
IRIEs and the regional administrations play an important role in local elections. In particular, they monitor voter registration and the litigation of disputes related to registration; validation of candidacies and management of related disputes; control of the electoral campaign and its financing; accreditation of candidates’ representatives; and the organization of voting, counting, and tabulation of results.
Since 2022, Tunisia has adopted an automatic registration process. Every voter over 18 years old with the legal capacity to vote is automatically included on the voters’ register. The High Independent Election Commission has not made the final electoral roll public yet as of writing. The preliminary roll includes 9,079,271 registered voters for the local elections, of whom 30.8 percent are people under 36 years old, 47.7 percent are between 36 and 60 years old, and 21.4 percent are over 60 years old. Women account for 51 percent of registered voters.
The local councils are composed of three types of members: those directly elected, those drawn by lot and those appointed by State authorities.
- Through a two-round majoritarian system, voters will elect in single-mandate constituencies. In essence, 2,155 elections will take place throughout Tunisia on 24 December. Each electoral constituency corresponds to a sector (Imada), the lowest administrative level in Tunisia. Candidates must receive an absolute majority to be elected in the first round. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, a second round is organized between the two top candidates two weeks after the proclamation of the final results of the first round. If there is only one candidate, he or she will be elected regardless of the number of votes received. The candidate who receives the largest number of votes in each delegation will preside over the local council as chairperson. After the first three months, a new chairperson will be selected by lot every three months.
- One seat per local council (279 in all) is reserved for persons with disabilities, whom the Election Commission will select by lot on 24 December.
- An undefined number of seats are reserved for local representatives of Ministries that will represent the State authorities, such as for instance the ministries of agriculture, social affairs, and education. Relevant ministries will appoint these non-voting members.
A total of 7,777 individuals applied to the regional election commissions (IRIEs) to compete in these elections. On November 14, 2023, the High Independent Election Commission published a preliminary list of 7,216 confirmed candidates. On November 28, after the litigation phase, the final number of candidates was reduced 7,205, including 1,028 candidates for seats reserved for persons with disabilities. Of those candidates, 22.1 percent are people under age 36 and only 13.3 percent are women.
The electoral campaign comprises all efforts carried out by candidates or their supporters to publicize the election platform and obtain votes. The campaign began 22 days before the election and will close 32 hours before polling begins. For these local elections, the campaign period began at midnight on December 2, 2023, and will run until December 22 at midnight.
Throughout the election period, candidates are prohibited from engaging in political advertising involving the use of commercial marketing. Also forbidden during this period are the publication of the results of opinion polls or commenting on polls directly or indirectly related to the elections.
During the campaign, candidates can publicize their platforms through public meetings, demonstrations, marches, and rallies, with advance notification to the High Independent Election Commission (ISIE). Candidates are also entitled to campaign on social media networks, but only on their own accounts and without paid advertising. Campaign methods are more limited for the local elections than for national elections. For instance, campaign messages on billboards are prohibited for local elections as is advertising on cars or buses.
Electoral propaganda is prohibited in schools, universities, vocational training buildings, and places of worship. Also forbidden is the distribution of documents or campaign activities in public administration buildings and public companies. This prohibition also applies to private companies that are not open to the public.
The law prohibits the use of state resources for the benefit of any candidate. As of 2022, public funding is no longer available to candidates. Electoral campaigns are exclusively funded through self-financing by candidates and by private financing. Private funding comes from individual donations, although there is no cap on those donations. Private financing may not exceed four-fifths of the overall limit on electoral campaign expenditures. Spending ceilings are calculated based on the number of voters per electoral constituency. The limits vary between a minimum of 1,000 TND (circa. 323 USD) and a maximum of 17,000 TND (circa. 5,490 USD).
Donations from legal entities (such as commercial companies, associations, or trade unions), foreign entities, and unknown sources are strictly prohibited. Also forbidden is any form of hidden financing, such as public resources, or the use of charitable activities to promote a candidate.
Candidates have the right to campaign via national and electronic media. While the principle of equality is established for media coverage, it cannot be respected in practice due to the number of candidates. The state-owned Tunisian Television organized a draw to select candidates to take part in debates, those who are entitled to direct free airtime, and those whose campaign activities will receive news coverage. Only a limited number of candidates will have access to various TV programs.
For the December 24 local elections, the High Independent Election Commission (ISIE) will open 4,685 voting centers, each with at least one polling station. A total of 8,190 polling stations will be available for voting. Each station will have a president and two members. Approximately 34,384 poll workers will also be present. Counting will take place at polling stations immediately after the close of voting and in the presence of observers and representatives of the candidates.
Voting will start at 8 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. At the end of the count, a copy of the minutes of the count will be posted outside the polling station and published on the ISIE’s website. Observers will not receive copies.
The election commission must announce the preliminary results of the first rounds no later than December 27, 2023. On the same day, the ISIE announces the results of the drawing for reserved seats. Once the litigation of disputes on the preliminary results has ended, the commission has 48 hrs. to announce the final results, but no later than January 27, 2024. On the same day, the ISIE announces the date of the second rounds in constituencies where no candidates obtained more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round.