Reconstituting Tunisia: Participation, Deliberation, and the Content of Constitution

AuthorTofigh Maboudi
Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-180kRBFTq6y4NF/input 854802PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919854802Political Research QuarterlyMaboudi
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(4) 774 –789
Reconstituting Tunisia: Participation,
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Deliberation, and the Content of
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919854802
Tofigh Maboudi1
The Tunisian constitutional reform experience in the wake of the Arab Spring—through which citizens were able to
meet with their representatives, participate in public deliberation over the constitution, and offer their own proposals
for the constitution—offers a unique opportunity to evaluate the debate on the optimal modality of constitutional
processes by revisiting both deliberative and representative theories of democracy and their predictions on how the
process can improve constitutional outcomes. The statistical analysis of a dataset of more than 2,500 citizen proposals
and the content of three constitutional drafts shows that 43 percent of public proposals were included in the final draft
of the constitution. The results also demonstrate that public input related to rights and freedoms is more likely to be
reflected in the constitution compared to other public proposals. This article suggests that more inclusive processes
can lead to more democratic constitutional outcomes, although this impact is contingent upon the incorporation of
particular consensus-building institutions.
public participation, democratic transition, theory of democracy, constitution-making, the Arab Spring, Tunisian
The Tunisian case provides a unique opportunity to
empirically evaluate the debate on optimal modality of
In January 2014, Tunisia ratified the most progressive
constitutional processes by studying the extent to which
constitution in the Arab world, receiving global praise
citizen proposals were translated into constitutional pro-
including a Nobel Peace Prize. The constitution itself
visions and contributed to a more democratic outcome.
was the result of months of negotiations and a remark-
Using a mixed-methods research design comprising of
ably inclusive process that included several national
statistical analysis of the content of public proposals and
dialogues with citizens, the civil society, and different
constitutional drafts as well as interviews with Tunisian
political groups, as well as several constitutional work-
constitution drafters, leaders of different political parties,
shops and conferences, and online crowdsourcing for
civil society organizations, and constitutional law experts,
constitutional proposals. Between December 2012 and
this study examines the impact of public input on the con-
February 2013, Tunisian citizens received a unique
tent of constitution. The statistical analysis of a dataset of
opportunity to meet with the constitution drafters and
more than two thousand five hundred citizen proposals
make constitutional proposals and demands. Throughout
solicited by the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly
this process, more than 2,500 citizen proposals for the
(NCA) and the content of the constitution shows that an
constitution were collected.
impressive 43 percent of public proposals were included
The Tunisian experience showcases a broader inter-
in the final draft of the constitution. However, the analy-
national trend in participatory constitutional reform pro-
sis shows that the subject of public proposals matters.
cesses, which emphasizes the importance of citizen
participation and deliberation for creating more inclu-
sive and democratic constitutions. Despite the spread of
1Loyola University Chicago, IL, USA
these extensive public consultations, studies showing
that such initiatives are successful in translating public
Corresponding Author:
Tofigh Maboudi, Department of Political Science, Loyola University
input into constitutional provisions are scant (see, for
Chicago, 1032 W. Sheridan Rd., Chicago, IL 60660, USA.
example, Hudson 2018) and remain mostly descriptive.

More specifically, the results demonstrate that public
that public proposals with higher popularity are more
input related to rights and freedoms is more likely to be
likely to become constitutional provisions, and the sec-
reflected in the constitution compared to other public pro-
ond hypothesis suggests that proposals related to certain
posals. The analysis also shows that there is a strong and
topics including rights are more likely to become consti-
positive relationship between the popularity of a citizen
tutional provisions. Finally, a discussion of the results
proposal and its likelihood of becoming a constitutional
and their implications for participatory constitutional
provision, indicating that the content of the Tunisian con-
processes is presented.
stitution reflects public concerns. These empirical find-
ings suggest that public deliberation in the Tunisian
Constitution-Making Processes and
constitutional process had a significant impact on the
Content of Constitutions
constitution. Regardless of the number and political affil-
iations of participants, public participation and delibera-
Much of the established wisdom suggests that public
tion as an illustrative form of “direct democracy” in
interests are better served when deliberation over politi-
constitution-making processes, or what Chambers (2004,
cal processes and institutions is limited to a select group
153) labels “the democratization of popular sovereignty,”
of highly trained and well-informed representatives.1
not only legitimizes the process but also yields more
Historically, the debate on political representation has
democratic outcomes (Pateman 1970).
focused on whether representatives should act as inde-
This article, however, contends that the effectiveness
pendent agents—what Edmund Burke ([1790] 1999)
of public participation in constitution-making is contin-
calls trustees—or as delegates of their constituencies.
gent upon a few conditions. Most importantly, to avoid
James Madison ([1787] 1961), one of the leading fig-
the potentially negative impact of increased number of
ures in developing the delegate conception of represen-
veto players, anti-gridlock institutions should be tation, argued in Federalist No. 10 that “the public
deployed. This article suggests that two institutional
voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people,
designs, both utilized in the Tunisian constitutional pro-
will be more consonant to the public good than if pro-
cess, could prevent gridlock and facilitate consensus
nounced by the people themselves, convened for the
building in constitutional reform processes. First, if a
purpose.” In her seminal work, Pitkin (1967) departs
majority threshold is not achieved, which is very com-
from these traditional conceptions and identifies four
mon in transitioning states, a supermajority vote on the
different views of representation.2 Much of the debate
constitution is more likely to yield consensus than the
on political representation during the Cold War was
more common combination of simple majority vote and
shaped by Pitkin’s emphasis on formal procedures of
public referendum (which was the case in Egypt).
authorization and accountability, or what she calls for-
Another anti-gridlock institution utilized in Tunisia was
malistic representation (Plotke 1997). The literature on
the Consensus Commission, an ad hoc constitutional
representation has evolved in several directions since
committee representing all political parties and social
the Cold War, and the formalistic conception of repre-
groups which had the final vote on controversial issues
sentation is no more satisfactory, partly due to several
in the NCA. These consensus-building institutions
transformations in domestic and international context of
ensured that different societal interests were present in
political representation. Increasingly interest groups,
the Tunisian constitutional reform process and were
nongovernmental actors, and international advocacy
translated into constitutional provisions. Ultimately, a
groups have taken steps in standing, speaking, and act-
constitutional design that emphasizes inclusiveness and
ing for “underrepresented” people within a country,
consensus and attempts to engage various interests
which has resulted in innovative ways of conceptualiz-
would be more durable and fairer to all (Brown 2008).
ing representation (Warren and Castiglione 2004).
The Tunisian constitutional process was, as such, a suc-
In the context of constitutional reform processes, for-
cessful experience as it incorporated various voices but
malistic representation implies that a group of representa-
limited the impact of extreme interests and demands,
tives, preferably authorized by people via an upstream
resulting in an inclusive and democratic constitution
election and accountable to their constituency via a
(Hartshorn 2017).
downstream referendum, should be tasked with constitu-
This article proceeds as follow. After a review of the
tion making. This emphasis on representative processes
recent developments in deliberative and representative
with public authorization or accountability is in line with
theories of democracy, a brief...

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