In Tunisia, the new Constitution would be widely accepted with low turnout

According to the director of the Sigma Conseil institute, Hassen Zargouni, a poll at the exit of the polls would give the “yes” to the new Constitution in Tunisia, winner by a large majority of “92 to 93%”. This controversial new fundamental law, imposed by President Kaïs Saïed, grants vast powers to the head of state, breaking with the parliamentary system in place since 2014.

At least 2.46 million voters, or 27.54% of the 9.3 million registered voters, voted on Monday, the electoral authority announced, citing provisional figures. “The voters were at the rendezvous with history and went in very respectable numbers to the polling stations,” assured the media the president of the Isie authority, Farouk Bouasker, stressing that some offices abroad haven’t finished voting

The first official results are expected “Tuesday afternoon”, according to a spokesman for Isie, Mansri Tlili.

Hassen Zargouni estimated that “exceeding 20% ​​of voters is rather a good result”. In Tunisia, we vote less and less in recent years, “systematically below 40%”, he underlined, recalling that the participation fell from 52% in the legislative elections of 2011, after the fall of the dictator Ben Ali , to 32% in 2019 (out of 7 million voters).

Call for boycott

According to Sigma Conseil, “between 1.8 and 1.9 million people” followed the call for a boycott, launched by the major opposition parties, including the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha, citing an “illegal process” and without consultation.

Tunisia, facing serious economic difficulties, sharpened by the Covid and the war in Ukraine on which it depends for its wheat imports, has been very divided since the president seized all the powers a year ago.

“We have high hopes for July 25. Tunisia will prosper from today,” Imed Hezzi, a 57-year-old waiter, told AFP, showing a finger stained with blue ink, to avoid any fraud. Mongia Aouanallah, a 62-year-old retiree, is waiting for “a better life, so that our children’s children can live better” because “everything is catastrophic”.

A Constitution that could “open the way to a dictatorial regime”

After voting, the president called for his Constitution to be approved to “establish a new Republic based on true freedom, true justice, and national dignity.” Ennahdha denounced statements that could guide the vote, representing “a fraud in the referendum”.

With this new fundamental law, the president appoints the head of government and the ministers and can dismiss them as he pleases. He can submit legislative texts to Parliament which have “precedence”. A second chamber will represent the regions, as a counterweight to the current Assembly of Representatives (deputies).

The opposition and many NGOs have denounced a Constitution “tailor-made” for Kaïs Saïed, and the risk of authoritarian drift of a president who is not accountable to anyone. Sadok Belaïd, the lawyer charged by the president with drawing up the new Constitution, disavowed the final text, believing that it could “open the way to a dictatorial regime”.

Concerns

A complex character, President Saïed has exercised power in an increasingly solitary way for the past year. He considers his overhaul of the Constitution as an extension of the “correction of course” initiated on July 25, 2021 when, citing political and economic blockages, he dismissed his Prime Minister and froze Parliament before dissolving it in March, putting in jeopardize the only democracy born of the Arab Spring.

The new text “gives almost all the powers to the president and dismantles all the systems and institutions that can control him,” Said Benarbia, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists ICJ, told AFP. It gives him “more powers than the 1959 Constitution”, drawn up under Habib Bourguiba, by removing the separation of powers and “a judicial power subordinate to the executive”. “None of the safeguards that could protect Tunisians from violations similar to the Ben Ali (regime) exist”, according to Said Benarbia, convinced that the new Constitution “codifies autocracy”.

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For analyst Youssef Cherif, areas of freedom remain guaranteed, but the question of a return to a dictatorial regime similar to that of the former autocrat of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, could arise “after Kaïs Saïed “.

For most of the population, the priority is elsewhere: sluggish growth (around 3%), high unemployment (nearly 40% of young people), galloping inflation and the increase in the number of poor to 4 million people.

Tunisia, on the verge of default with a debt of more than 100% of GDP, is negotiating a new loan with the IMF which has a good chance of being granted but will require in return sacrifices likely to provoke social unrest.

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