Tunisians vote in favor of the new constitution, say the authorities

Tunis, Tunis –

Tunisians voted in favor of a new constitution that critics fear could entrench the president’s efforts to consolidate power, according to official preliminary results Tuesday night.

Initial results announced by the Tunisian electoral commission said that 94.6% of the votes supported the new letter, with 5.4% against. Turnout in Monday’s referendum was low, with just over a quarter of the nation’s voters turning out.

The new political system will give broad executive powers to the president and the removal of key checks and balances, including weakening the influence of Tunisia’s parliament and judiciary.

The text was proposed and revised by Tunisian President Kais Saied himself, and has raised concerns that the North African nation will see a setback in its hard-won democratic gains.

Critics warn Saied’s new structure could pave the way for a new autocracy in the country that rose up against strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and kicked off the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only nation to emerge with a democracy from those protests.

The referendum took place exactly one year after Saied froze Tunisia’s parliament and ousted his government. Opponents later derided the move as “a coup,” but many Tunisians celebrated in exasperation with the country’s political elites and years of economic stagnation.

In the year since then, Saied has given himself the power to rule by decree and fired dozens of judges, decisions that have sparked a series of protests. Winning the presidency in 2019 with more than 70% of the vote, Saied continues to enjoy broad popular support, with recent polls putting his approval rating at more than 50%.

Many believe the new constitution will end years of political stalemate and reduce the political clout of Tunisia’s largest party, Ennahdha, an Islamist party unpopular with many Tunisians.

However, turnout on Monday was low, with preliminary figures putting turnout at 27.5% of the 9.3 million registered voters.

Political apathy has increased in the decade since the revolution. Tunisians have become disenchanted with politics and preoccupied with daily struggles as unemployment rises and purchasing power declines.

But Saied’s critics also called for a boycott of the referendum, saying the process was flawed. Among the complaints, they said Saied altered the composition of Tunisia’s electoral commission, undermining its independence, and alleged that political parties that wanted to campaign against the constitution were prevented from holding campaign events.

Opposition politician Samira Chaouachi, a former parliament speaker, said Tuesday that three-quarters of Tunisians have shown that “they will not participate in this crime that is being committed against democracy and Tunisia.”

The international community also echoed the concerns.

The US State Department on Tuesday noted low turnout, saying weakened checks and balances in Tunisia’s new constitution “could compromise the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Leave a Comment