Tunisia: President Saied achieves success with the adoption of his controversial Constitution
President Kais Saied has achieved success with the adoption by a large majority of a new Constitution which grants him vast prerogatives at the risk of jeopardizing the young Tunisian democracy, but the low turnout is undermining the legitimacy of the process, according to his opponents.
The new fundamental law was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 94.6%, according to preliminary official results announced late Tuesday by the president of the electoral authority Isie, Farouk Bouasker, after lengthy counting operations.
The turnout, considered very low, increased slightly compared to the provisional figures announced the day before by Isie, “to 2.756 million voters” against “2.46 million and a turnout of 27.54%” .
The coalition of opponents Front du salut national (FSN), which had called for a boycott of the ballot denouncing a text “tailor-made” for Mr. Saied, accused Isie of having “falsified” by amplifying the figures on attendance at the ballot.
For the FSN, which includes the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha, Mr. Saied’s pet peeve, by not going to the polls, “75% of Tunisians refused to give their approval to the putschist project launched a year ago. by Kais Saied”.
Tunisia, facing an economic crisis aggravated by the Covid and the war in Ukraine on which it depends for its wheat imports, has been very polarized since Mr. Saied, democratically elected in 2019, seized all the powers on 25 July 2021, arguing that the country is ungovernable.
In the first foreign position on this disputed referendum, the United States warned of the risk that the Constitution would not sufficiently guarantee the rights and freedoms of Tunisians.
“The new Constitution includes weakened checks and balances, which could compromise the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department.
Said Benarbia of the NGO International Commission of Jurists expressed doubts “about the legitimacy” of the vote with such a low turnout.
For analyst Youssef Cherif, “most people voted for the man (Kais Saied) or against his opponents, not for his text”.
This is the case of Noureddine al-Rezgui, a bailiff who works in Tunis: “After 10 years of disappointment and total bankruptcy in the management of the state and the economy, the Tunisians want to get rid of the old system and mark a new turning point”.
For him, “the fact that the level of participation is not great, it’s normal and like in the rest of the world, for example in the last legislative elections in France“.
The expert Abdellatif Hannachi also relativizes the low attendance, judging it “quite respectable given the organization of the ballot in summer, during the holidays and in the heat”.
– Horns and flags –
As soon as the estimates of the independent polling institute Sigma Conseil were published on Monday evening, hundreds of supporters of the president descended to celebrate “his victory” on Bourguiba Avenue, in the center of Tunis.
Around 01:00 GMT, Kais Saied appeared in front of the cheering crowd. “Tunisia has entered a new phase,” he said, assuring that the Constitution would make it possible to move “from a situation of despair to a situation of hope”.
The voters were above all “the most aggrieved middle classes, adults who feel cheated economically, politically and socially”, analyzed for AFP the director of Sigma Conseil, Hassen Zargouni.
The new Constitution grants broad prerogatives to the Head of State, breaking with the parliamentary system in place since 2014.
The president who cannot be dismissed designates the head of government and the ministers and can dismiss them as he pleases.
He can submit to Parliament legislative texts which have “priority”. A second chamber will represent the regions, as a counterweight to the current Assembly of Representatives (deputies).
Sadok Belaïd, the lawyer commissioned by Mr. Saied to draw up a draft Constitution, disavowed the final text, believing that it could “open the way to a dictatorial regime”.
– “All the powers” –
Human rights defenders and the opposition denounce the absence of checks and balances in this text.
Kais Saied, 64, considers this overhaul as an extension of the “course correction” initiated on July 25, 2021 when, citing political and economic blockages, he dismissed his Prime Minister and froze Parliament before dissolving it in March.
If spaces of freedom remain guaranteed, the question of a return to a dictatorship like that of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, ousted in 2011 during a popular revolt, could arise “after Kais Saied”, according to M Cherif.
For many experts, Mr. Saied’s political future will depend on his ability to revive an economy in a catastrophic situation with very high unemployment, plummeting purchasing power and an increasing number of poor people.
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