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Tunisians support new constitution, but with low turnout

An elderly Tunisian man votes during a referendum on a draft constitution proposed by the country’s president, at a polling station in Kasserine, on July 25, 2022.

  • Tunisian President Kais Saied’s draft constitution will come into force after a referendum on Monday.
  • The new constitution gives the president power over both the government and the judiciary, while removing checks on his authority and weakening parliament.
  • Opposition parties boycotted the referendum, accusing Saied of a coup.

A new Tunisian constitution that the opposition warns could dismantle the country’s democracy by greatly expanding presidential powers will come into force after a referendum on Monday that passed easily but with a low turnout.

President Kais Saied last year expelled parliament and moved to rule by decree, saying the country needed saving from years of paralysis as he rewrote the democratic constitution after Tunisia’s 2011 “Arab Spring” revolution.

Opposition parties boycotted the referendum, accused Saied of a coup and said the new constitution he published less than a month ago expected a dialogue back to autocracy.

READ | Tunisians start voting in referendum on new constitution

The new constitution gives the president power over both the government and the judiciary, while removing checks on his authority and weakening parliament.

Meanwhile, Tunisia is facing a looming economic crisis and is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – issues that have preoccupied ordinary people far more than the political crisis over the past year.

There was no minimum level of participation for the measure to pass and the electoral commission put the preliminary turnout at just 27.5%.

Shortly after an exit poll was published by Sigma Conseil indicating a ‘yes’ vote of 92.3%, hundreds of Saied supporters flocked to the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue to celebrate.

“Sovereignty is for the people”, “The people want to clean the country” they observed, dismissing concerns about a return to autocracy.

“We are not afraid of anything. Only the corrupt and the officials who looted the state will be afraid,” said Noura bin Ayad, a 46-year-old woman holding a Tunisian flag.

Saied’s first moves against parliament last year appeared hugely popular with Tunisians, as thousands flooded the streets to support him, venting anger at the political parties they accused of years of misrule and decay.

However, as Tunisia’s economy deteriorated over the past year with little intervention from Saied, his support seemed to be fading.

“Now that we have given him a new political mandate to face the political lobbies, we ask Saied to take care of our economic situation, prices and food supply,” said Naceur, one of his supporters celebrating on Monday.

Questions integrity

An opposition coalition, including the Islamist Ennahda, the largest party in the dissolved parliament, said Saied had “failed miserably to secure popular support for his coup” and urged him to resign.

The low turnout is not easy to compare with previous elections because Tunisia now automatically registers voters. The previous lowest turnout was 41% in 2019 for the parliament that dissolved Saied.

The president’s opponents have also questioned the integrity of a vote conducted by an electoral commission whose board replaced Saied this year, and with fewer independent observers than for previous Tunisian elections.

Saied cast his vote on Monday, hailed the referendum as the foundation of a new republic.

Western democracies that looked to Tunisia as the only success story of the Arab Spring have yet to comment on the proposed new constitution, although they have been urging Tunis for the past year to return to the democratic path.

“I am frustrated by all of them. I would rather enjoy this hot day than go and vote,” said Samia, a woman sitting with her husband and teenage son on the beach at La Marsa near Tunis, talking about Tunisian politicians.

Standing outside a cafe in the capital, Samir Slimane said he was not interested in voting.

He said:

I have no hope for change. Kais Saied will not change anything. He seeks only to have all powers.

Economic decline since 2011 has left many Tunisians angry at the parties that have ruled since the revolution and disillusioned with the political system they ran.

To address economic discontent, the government hopes to secure a $4 billion loan from the IM, but has fiercely opposed the required reforms, including cuts to fuel and food subsidies.

Tunisians support new constitution, but with low turnout

Source link Tunisians support new constitution, but with low turnout

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