Tunisians vote on much-criticized Constitution

Tunisians vote on a highly criticized Constitution

The opposition called for a boycott of the ballot, citing an illegal process without consultation.

Tunisians voted on Monday on a much criticized new Constitution, which strengthens the powers of President Kais Saied at risk for the country, cradle of spring Arab, to return to an authoritarian regime.

Tunisia, facing serious economic difficulties, sharpened by COVID and the war in Ukraine, on which it depends for its wheat imports, has also been very polarized since the president seized all the power there is. a year, arguing that the country is ungovernable.

Participation is the main issue in the referendum, where the yes side has a good chance of winning, the big opposition parties, including the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha, having called on their voters to abstain.

Monday is a public holiday and many Tunisians have made the bridge. A total of 13.6% – exactly 1.213 million – of the 9.3 million registered voters had voted by 3:30 p.m. local time, said Farouk Bouasker, president of the electoral authority (Isie). /p>

Crowds increased in the morning, but decreased during the siesta period, he said, saying he expected a noticeable increase especially among young people who prefer to come at the end of the day.

The first results are expected on Tuesday afternoon, Isia spokesman Mansri Tlili said. attendance was higher than expected, according to AFP journalists.

We have great hopes for July 25. Tunisia will prosper from today, said Imed Hezzi, a 57-year-old waiter, showing a finger stained with blue ink, to avoid 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.

With this referendum, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed wants to further strengthen his powers, already considered exorbitant.

After voting, the President called for the approval of his Constitution to establish a new Republic based on true freedom, true justice and national dignity. Ennahdha denounced statements that could steer the vote, representing fraud in the referendum.

This controversial new fundamental law, imposed by President Saied, grants vast powers to the leader of the ;State, breaking with the parliamentary system in place since 2014.

The president appoints the head of government and the ministers and can dismiss them as he sees fit. 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].

The opposition and many NGOs have denounced a tailor-made Constitution for Mr. Saied, and the risk of an authoritarian drift of a president answerable to no one.

Sadok Belaïd, the jurist appointed by Mr. Saied to draw up the new Constitution, disavowed the final text, believing that it could pave the way for a dictatorial regime.

The opposition has called for a boycott of the ballot, citing an illegal process without consultation.

A complex character, President Saied exercises power in an increasingly solitary manner for a year.

Aged 64, he considers his overhaul of the Constitution 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, jeopardizing the only democracy resulting from the Arab Spring.

Kais Saied faces recurring popular protests.

The new text gives almost all the powers to the president and dismantles all the systems and institutions that can control him, said Monday Said Benarbia, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). It gives it more powers than the 1959 Constitution, drawn up under Habib Bourguiba, by abolishing the separation of powers and establishing 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 Benarbia, convinced that the new constitution codifies autocracy.

For analyst Youssef Cherif, spaces 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 in the post-Kais Saied period.

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

Tunisia, on the verge of default with a debt above 100% of GDP, negotiates a new loan with the IMF which has a good chance of being granted, but will require sacrifices in return (reduction of subsidies for products base, in particular), likely to cause social unrest.

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