The situation in Tunisia is perhaps too fluid to speculate on, but if the current situation stabilizes, it is an interesting example of constitutional compliance under a (potentially collapsing) authoritarian regime. Article 57 of the 1959 Constitution, as amended, reads:
“In case the Presidency of the Republic becomes vacant on account of death, resignation, or permanent disability, the Constitutional Council shall meet immediately and pronounce the permanent vacancy by absolute majority of its members. It shall address a declaration to this effect to the President of the Chamber of Councilors and the President of the Chamber of Deputies, who shall be invested immediately with the functions of Interim President of the Republic for a period of at least 45 days and at most 60 days….
The Interim President of the Republic may not be a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic even in the case of resignation.
The Interim President of the Republic shall discharge the functions assigned to the President of the Republic, without having the power, however, to resort to a referendum, to dismiss the Government, to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, or to take the exceptional measures provided for in Article 46.
During the Interim Presidency no amendment to the Constitution or censure motion against the Government shall be admissible.
During the same period presidential elections shall be organized to elect a new President of the Republic for a term of five years…”
Under the terms of this article, Fouad Mebazaa, who had been President of the Chamber of Deputies, was named Interim President. This followed the brief claim of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to serve as President. So far so good: it looks as if the provisions of the constitution were being followed. Subsequently, Ghannouchi resumed the role of interim Prime Minister but has vowed to step down after free and fair elections, which he claims will be organized within six months. There is only one problem: Article 57 seems to require a new election for the permanent president within two months. After 60 days, Mebazaa will lose his mandate, and then what? Stay tuned in March for an update…