Path: Table of Countries --> Tunisia
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 833-834
TUNISIA: The Party System in 1950-1955and 1956-1962
 (Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Habib Bourguiba, absent from Tunisia for three years, returned in 1949 to lead the movement for independence from France. By 1950, the Neo-Destour Party had allied with the major Tunisian trade union, UGTT, to press for independence. With the appointment that year of a new French resident general who was supposed to lead Tunisia to independence, some reforms were introduced, with Tunisian membership in the Council of Ministers increased to nine against three French members. Although a Tunisian prime minister presided over the council, France still controlled finances and foreign affairs and supervised the actions of Tunisian officials. Pressure from French colonists resulted in reforms of 1951 built around an objective of cosovereignty, which offered little advance toward internal autonomy. A counterproposal by Tunisian nationalists was rejected later the same year, and the French government reasserted its intention to participate in Tunisian political institutions. With the domestic triumph of the more radical Neo-Destour Party over the Old Destour group, opposition against the French turned into violence. French policy changed in favor of the nationalists with Mendes-France's premiership in 1954. In June 1955, the Franco-Tunisian Conventions gave Tunisia internal autonomy, with France reserving responsibility for defense and foreign affairs.

France recognized full Tunisian independence in March 1956. In elections the same year, the Neo-Destour national front received all the seats in the National Assembly. In July 1957, the Constituent Assembly voted to abolish the monarchy and to establish the Tunisian Republic, with Bourguiba named as president. The same Assembly drafted a constitution put into effect in June 1959. In November, Tunisia held its first elections under the new constitution. Bourguiba was unopposed and the national front list was elected. In 1961, a crisis occurred when French and Tunisian forces clashed over the French base at Bizerte. Diplomatic relations with France were interrupted but resumed in September 1962. Later the same year, a plot to assassinate Bourguiba was discovered and foiled. Our period ends just before Bourguiba reorganized the Neo-Destour Party in 1963 in response to these developments.

Continuity and Change since 1962

 "Continuity" best characterizes Tunisia's party system after independence and through 1978. Tunisia remained a single-party state.

Original Party, Continuing

751 New Constitution Party. Instrumental in winning independence from the French, Neo-Destour became the governing party under a national front and continued as the sole party under Habib Bourguiba's long period as president. The party was reorganized in 1964, when its name was changed to the Destour Socialist Party.  


Pressures for liberalization of Tunisian politics coincided with Bourguiba's failing health. In June 1978, the Tunisian Movement of Social Democrats, which had split from the DSP, sought recognition as a political party in its own right (Keesing's Contemporary Archives, December 15, 1978, p. 29362). When the ailing Bourguiba departs, it is possible that Tunisia's record of party stability will be significantly altered.

1. Our study of party politics in Tunisia is based on a file of 1,345 pages from 50 documents, 10 of which are in French, the rest in English. The only party included in our study is the Neo?Destour, (code 751), which appeared on 1,082 pages, constituting 80 percent of the total file. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by G. David Keebler. Carol Hodges and Nancy Artz used the file to code the Neo-Destour on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Ibrahim Abu?Lughod was our consultant.