victory of “yes”, failure of a revolution?

“Yes” won, with 94.6%, in the referendum on the new constitution of Tunisia. This text consecrates the presidency to power and turns the page on parliamentarism established in 2014. This change makes the opposition fear, like analysts, a dangerous democratic change. If the legitimacy of an election avoided by nearly 70% of Tunisians is questioned, the vote shows a general fed up with the political elite of the post-revolutionary era.

After the victory of the “yes” vote in the referendum on the new constitution that strengthens the powers of the head of state, Tunisia, the only and tottering democracy resulting from the Arab Spring of 2011, is heading for “hyper-presidentialization” . The concentration of power in the hands of the strongman of Tunis, Kaïs Saïed, as well as the lack of legitimacy in an election marked by a very high abstention concern pro-democracy activists. But for them, the election is above all a symptom of a deep rejection vis-à-vis the leaders at the head of the country since the Jasmine Revolution.

The result of this vote, which seems to have been obtained, is now official: in the referendum that proposed a new constitution for their country, Tunisians answered “yes”, to 94.6% of the votes, according to the preliminary official results announced on Tuesday July 26 later. at night.

In the evening from Monday to Tuesday, reacting to the first estimates, President Kaïs Saïed proclaimed the entry of Tunisia into a “new phase”. Tuesday night, his country started down the road to a Constitution that clearly strengthened its rights.

In this main artery of the Tunisian capital, young supporters of President Kaïs Saïed celebrate the victory of the “yes” vote in the constitutional referendum, then almost certain, the day before the announcement of the results, Monday, July 25, in Tunis. © Mehdi Chebil, France 24

In a speech given to his supporters gathered in the center of Tunis, Kaïs Saïed considered that “Tunisians are giving a lesson to the world, a lesson in history”. “The referendum will make it possible to move from a state of despair to a state of hope.”

On the emblematic Avenue Bourguiba, the heart of the capital rejoices with the joy worthy of a night of football victory
In front of the municipal theater in Tunis, a crowd celebrates the victory of “yes” in the constitutional referendum, then almost certain, the day before the announcement of the results, Monday, July 25. © Mehdi Chebil, France 24

Yet Tunisia, facing an economic crisis, exacerbated by Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine – a country on which it depends on wheat imports – is more polarized than ever since President Kaïs Saïed, who was democratically elected in 2019, took full power in. July 25, 2021. Part of civil society considers the new constitution dangerous for the young Tunisian democracy.

“Very serious concerns”

The tenant of the Palace of Carthage, 64, considers this amendment to the Constitution as an extension of the “course correction” that began on July 25, 2021 when, citing political obstacles and economy, he dismissed his Prime Minister and suspended Parliament. breaking it in March.

With the takeover in recent months of the Superior Council of the Judiciary or the Independent High Authority for Elections (Isie), human rights defenders and the opposition have criticized the absence of checks and balances and fools in this text .

For Lamine Benghazi, of the NGO Avocats sans frontières, in Tunis, “this new constitution has raised very strong concerns within civil society on a number of issues related to the rule of law, and a great constitutional amendment in 2014”.


According to him, the new text “enshrines a hyper-presidentialist regime”, placing the head of state “above all political or criminal responsibility”. And raised fears about the independence of justice, “torpedoed last year”.

On February 5, Kaïs Saïed announced the dissolution of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, an independent body created in 2016 to appoint judges, accused of bias and under the influence of Ennahda.

On the 13th of the same month, he announced that he was replacing it with another “temporary” body and gave himself the power to fire judges and prohibit them from striking.

“Tunisia is moving towards a less parliamentary and more presidential system,” said analyst Youssef Cherif, who was interviewed by AFP. “Examples from the region and the history of Tunisia show that this leads to a hardening of the regime and less democracy,” he said.

The ghost of the Ben Ali era

Should we expect an authoritarian resurgence in this country that, in 2011, was the cradle of the “Arab Spring”?

The materialization of this event is not necessary immediately, answered Nabil Guassoumi, a teacher who was met by our special envoys in Kasserine, 300 km from Tunis: “Today we may have witnessed the birth of a bag – that dictator. It may not be Kaïs Saïed but it will be his successor.

If the spaces of freedom remain guaranteed, the question of the return of a dictatorship like Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in 2011 during a popular uprising, may arise “in the post-Kaïs Saïed that time”, estimated Youssef Cherif with AFP.

“It is not at this age that I start a career as a dictator”, often liked ironically the sixty-year-old president, taking the words of General de Gaulle.

For many opponents, the real danger is not directly embodied by Kaïs Saïed, explained Bruno Daroux, international columnist of France 24: lasting – since carved in constitutional marble -, the presidency of the regime may allow his successor to dragging Tunisia towards a “real authoritarian, even dictatorial regime, like the time of Ben Ali”.


“Abstention Wins”

The joy of the support of President Kaïs Saïed “badly hides” the low interest of a large part of Tunisians in the referendum, analyzes Karim Yahiaoui, special correspondent for France 24 in Tunis.

About 70% of those registered on the lists did not come to vote: a record for the post-Ben Ali era, recalls Lamine Benghazi. “So it is above all abstention that wins. In a self-respecting democratic country, a minimum participation threshold of 50% would be necessary”, estimates the head of Lawyers without Borders in Tunis.

Vote “no” or boycott the election: facing this strategic question, the opposition remains divided, says Karim Yahiaoui. For Afef Daoud, president of the national council of the leftist and opposition party Ettakatol, the boycott has become obvious.

“This constitutional reform is not a request from the population, asking for economic and social reforms”, he assured the microphone of France 24. By abstaining the majority, the people clearly responded that “We are not interested”, continued Afef Daoud.


“We see nothing, neither work, nor freedom, nor dignity”

Tunisians who voted “yes” did not necessarily endorse Kaïs Saïed, but allowed the system put in place since 2011, decrypted Karim Yahiaoui.

A chemistry graduate, now unemployed, Hichem Abaidi tries to survive in Kasserine by giving private lessons. His anger was directed at the leaders who preceded Kaïs Saïed: “We saw nothing, neither work, nor freedom, nor dignity. While they were in power, we had nothing.”

In the end, it is the “political acts” that Tunisians castigate, believes Afef Daoud, and not the 2014 Constitution: “It paves the way for a better future, but once voted, it was never implemented . political parties elected since 2014, such as the grand coalition of Ennahda-Nidaa Tounes, have never responded to the demands of the population.”

The National Salvation Front, a coalition of Tunisian opposition parties, on Tuesday accused the electoral body of “falsifying” voter turnout figures, arguing that President Kais Saied’s referendum “failed”. “.

But for most Tunisians, the most pressing concerns are the economy. Slow growth (about 3%), high unemployment (almost 40% of young people) and high inflation have brought the number of poor to 4 million in a country under 12 million inhabitants.

The country of jasmine, which is on the verge of failure with a debt of more than 100% of GDP, negotiated a new loan with the IMF. It certainly has a good chance of being granted, but requires sacrifices in return, likely to arouse a strong discontent in society.

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