“We are not afraid of a little dictatorship to clean up the country”

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Tunisians began voting on Monday for a constitutional referendum that should lead to the establishment of a presidential regime tailored to the head of state, Kais Saied. For voters interviewed by France 24, it was a question of turning the page on the ten years of political instability and economic decline that followed the revolution. Reporting.

Some voters rush in and out of the grounds of the Mongi Slim school, in the Olympic City district of Tunis, under the watchful eye of police stationed at the entrance. The low attendance at this polling station on Monday, July 25, allowed voters to vote for or against the new Constitution proposed by President Kaïs Saïed of Tunisia in almost five minutes.

The contrast with the long queues seen by France 24 at the same place and at the same time (7 a.m. local time) in the country’s first free legislative elections in October 2014. The enthusiasm of the electorate, others were covered with the Tunisian flag, replaced by bitterness licked with anger. All the voters interviewed here said they voted for the new constitution, hoping to turn the page on the decade of political instability and economic decline that followed the 2011 revolution.

“This is a very special vote because it will get rid of the Islamists! That is what drives us to vote today,” said Adel Ouennich, referring to the leading role of the Islamic-conservative Ennahda party in the ruling coalition since of the revolution. “I’m in favor of a president who has all the powers and runs the country with a strong hand. It’s better than having a collapsed power, where everyone passes the buck,” added the 56-year-old engineer.

Adel Ouennich showed his index finger covered in indelible ink, proof that he had voted. © Mehdi Chebil

“Little Dictatorship”

In fact, President Kaïs Saïed has had full powers since his coup d’état on July 25, 2021. The parliament was dissolved and many of the safeguards put in place in the 2014 Constitution, including independent bodies regarding justice, the media and the organization of elections, brought to heel.

Polling stations are open from 6 am to 10 pm, a unique time slot intended to encourage voter participation.
Polling stations are open from 6 am to 10 pm, a unique time slot intended to encourage voter participation. © Mehdi Chebil

This referendum should approve this practice of power and allow Kaïs Saïed to continue enjoying many rights without having to give accounts. The many legal criticisms, issued in Tunisia and abroad, apparently did not prevent the president’s supporters from voting in favor of the new text of the constitution.

“This new Constitution is not very well done, but we will regularize as we go,” said Sarah Boughriba, who came to vote with her parents and children. “We are not afraid of a little dictatorship to clean up the country,” added the 28-year-old, who determined that a lasting tyranny cannot live in Tunisia. “The Tunisian people have ousted a dictator once, we can do it again.”

Sarah Boughriba (center, with her son in her arms) came to vote as a family.  All supported the new Constitution.
Sarah Boughriba (center, with her son in her arms) came to vote as a family. All supported the new Constitution. © Mehdi Chebil

It is not surprising the unity of the voters encountered in this polling station because most of the opponents boycotted the ballot in order not to give legitimacy to what they qualified as autocratic drift. So the abstention rate is the main issue in this referendum. When he was high, President Kaïs Saïed could boast that he always had “people with him”. If, on the other hand, the turnout is too low, his populist rhetoric will be tainted and the opposition will be able to claim that the majority of Tunisians reject this new regime.

On Monday morning, volunteers at the polling station at Mongi Slim School sometimes had to wait a few minutes before a new voter arrived.
On Monday morning, volunteers at the polling station at Mongi Slim School sometimes had to wait a few minutes before a new voter arrived. © Mehdi Chebil

Return to page ten years of decline

In any case, the voters who met at the polling stations cited Tunisia’s economic decline as one of their main motivations for turning the table.

“I’ve been living in France for five years. I miss it but it hurts me to see what the changes are here. I see that, among my friends, all the graduates have left the country. it’s not possible like this,” said Sarah Boughriba.

Habib Guerbouj (center) and his friends play cards in a café in Ettadhamen district after voting in favor of the new Constitution.
Habib Guerbouj (center) and his friends play cards in a café in Ettadhamen district after voting in favor of the new Constitution. © Mehdi Chebil

A few kilometers away, in the popular district of Ettadhamen, a small but steady stream of voters enters the primary school where the Ettadhamen 2 polling station is located. . Here too, bitterness reigns.

“After the fall of Ben Ali, we thought that with democracy we would have a life like in Europe. But, unfortunately, life has become more difficult. We have the same salary, but all the prices have increased, as well as the costs. of credits. We have to tighten our belts in the last ten days of the month because we have no money,” said Mohsen Bechedly, a high school sports teacher.

Mohsen Bechedly (right), sports teacher, shakes hands with the volunteer election organization after putting his ballot in the ballot box.
Mohsen Bechedly (right), sports teacher, shakes hands with the volunteer election organization after putting his ballot in the ballot box. © Mehdi CHEBIL

“We Tunisians want to live simply. We are not talking about Caribbean holidays, but about feeding and dressing our children properly,” added the 51-year-old. “That’s why we’re looking for someone who’s been driving us away for the last ten years.”

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