start of the referendum on the new controversial draft Constitution

A hyper-presidentialist project that raises fears of an authoritarian drift. Tunisians are called to the polls on Monday, July 25, to decide through a referendum on a draft new Constitution. This controversial reform, led by the head of state, Kaïs Saïed, aims to strengthen the powers of the president and could lead the country back to a dictatorial regime similar to that before 2011.

Across the country, more than 11,000 polling stations opened their doors at 7 a.m. in Paris to welcome voters, according to the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), the Tunisian electoral authority. , organizer of this consultation. They close at 11pm French time. The participation rate reached 6.3% at 10:30 Paris time, said ISIE President Farouk Bouasker, calling it a“encouragement”.

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According to ISIE, 9,296,064 voters were registered to voluntarily or automatically participate in this referendum, which was rejected by most political parties and criticized by rights defenders. The 356,291 Tunisians abroad started voting on Saturday and have until Monday to vote.

A reform that would “pave the way for a dictatorial regime”

After voting in the bourgeois district of Cité Ennasr, accompanied by his wife, Ichraf Chebil, the president spoke. Arousal a “historical choice”Kaïs Saïed called on Tunisians to go to the polls in “to build a new Republic based on true freedom, true justice and national dignity”.

Participation is the main issue in the referendum where no quorum is required and where yes is given preference, because the opposition of Mr. Saïed essentially called not to go to the polls.

The draft Constitution is necessary, according to Mr. Saïed, to end the political crisis caused by his coup d’état exactly one year ago. It established an ultra-presidential regime that gave more power to the Head of State, breaking the relatively parliamentary system in place since 2014, which Kaïs Saïed attributed to the recurring conflicts between the Parliament and the government in the last ten years. year.

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In the new text, the president, supreme commander of the armed forces, exercises executive power with the help of a head of government appointed by him and can remove him at will, without having to obtain the confidence of the Parliament. It approves laws and can also submit to Parliament legislative texts with “priority”.

A second chamber to represent the regions will be created to balance the current Assembly of Representatives, where Tunisian deputies sit. Sadok Belaïd, the jury appointed by Mr. Saïed to draft the new Constitution, rejected the final text, believing that it would “paving the way for a dictatorial regime”.

Boycott of the polls by most of the opposition parties

The opposition and NGOs criticized a text “custom made” for Mr. Saïed, and the excessive concentration of powers in the hands of a president who is not accountable to anyone.

The biggest parties opposed to the reform, especially the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha, Mr. Saïed’s peeve, thus calling for a boycott of the poll, citing a “illegal process” and not the result of any consultation. The powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), which has stayed away from political life where it has had a strong influence since the 2011 revolution, did not issue any voting guidelines.

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An inscrutable and complex character, the president, Kaïs Saïed, wielded power in an increasingly solitary manner last year. The age of 64, the head of state of Tunisia since 2019 considers, in fact, his repair of the Constitution as an extension of “course correction” engaged on July 25, 2021.

Arguing from political-economic obstacles, he dismissed his Prime Minister and froze the Parliament before dissolving it in March 2022, endangering the democracy resulting from the “Arab Spring”.

The country’s economic situation is dire

For researcher Youssef Cherif, “The fact that people can still express themselves freely, that they can vote no [au référendum] not going to jail shows that we are not in the traditional dictatorship scheme”.

But the question may arise, according to him, in the post-Saïed era, with a Constitution that “Could establish an authoritarian regime similar to the regimes experienced in Tunisia before 2011”the dictatorship of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and the autocratic regime of the hero of freedom, Habib Bourguiba.

After the vote, the main challenge for the President will remain the economic situation with slow growth (about 3%), high unemployment (40% of young people), high inflation, highlighted by the war in Ukraine and increase in poverty, affecting 4 million people.

Tunisia, which is experiencing a deep financial crisis with a debt of more than 100% of GDP, has been negotiating for months a new loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which, before the referendum , reported. “good progress” for a deal, but demand sacrifices in return, likely to provoke reactions in the streets.

Summary of the series “The Tunisia of Kaïs Saïed”

The World with AFP

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