Tunisians adopt a new Constitution that reduces democracy

The people of Tunisia have adopted a new Constitution that strengthens the one-man rule established by the President Kais Saied in the past year, according to the results of a referendum released on Tuesday, dealing a blow to a democracy built with great effort and high hopes after toppling the country’s dictator more than a decade ago.

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings began more than a decade ago, is internationally hailed as the only democracy that exists uprisings swept the region. But that chapter effectively ended with the new rulesthe seat of the quasi-absolute power that Mr. Saied conferred on himself a year before he Parliament suspends and fired his prime minister.

However, Monday’s referendum was marred by mass boycotts, voter apathy and a setup heavily tilted in Mr Saied’s favor. According to the results released by the election authorities, the Constitution was approved by 94.6% of voters.

Mr Saied said in a speech to cheering supporters in downtown Tunis hours after the polls closed: “The people who showed up across the country today show the importance of time. this point. “Today marks a new chapter of hope and turns the page of poverty, despair and injustice.”

In his remarks, Saied denied any tendency towards authoritarianism. But the new Constitution will return Tunisia to a presidential system like the one the country had under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the authoritarian ruler who was ousted in the so-called Jasmine Revolution of 2011. It also undermined Congress and most other checks on the power of the president. while giving the head of state the ultimate authority to form government, appoint judges, and present laws.

It preserves most of the provisions of the 2014 Constitution regarding rights and freedoms. But in contrast to the previous Constitution, which divided power between Parliament and the President, the new Constitution decentralizes the legislature and judiciary into something more like civil servants, giving the president only the power to appoint appoint ministers and judges of the government and undermine the ability of Parliament. to withdraw confidence from the government.

After years of political paralysis, the referendum could mark the end of a nascent democracy that many Tunisians have seen as corrupt and unable to guarantee bread, freedom and dignity – ideals they proclaimed in 2011.

But with voter turnout as low as 30% and most major political parties boycotting the vote to avoid giving it more legitimacy, Mr. Saied now stands on a slippery, likely platform. His ability to carry out further reforms is in question.

The the democratic system is incapable of providing Good jobs and putting food on the table, stamping out widespread corruption or implementing necessary reforms have led many Tunisians to turn to Saied for rescue. The former constitutional law professor was elected to the presidency in 2019 largely because he is a political outsider.

According to one Survey of Arab Barometer.

When Mr. Saied came to power a year ago, celebrations erupted in the streets of the capital, Tunis. Polls show a majority of Tunisians support his move, even as opponents and analysts call it a coup. But you declare His grasp of power was necessary to realize the long unattained goals of the revolution and eliminate the country’s corruption.

“If you tell me about democracy or human rights and all that, we haven’t seen any of that in the last 10 years,” said Rafaa Baouindi, 50, a retired banker. vote “yes” in downtown Tunis said on Monday. “What is happening today, I call it a new era, in a good sense. It couldn’t be worse than it was over a decade ago. “

He said he didn’t mind the Constitution concentrating power in the hands of the president. “A ship needs a captain,” he said. “I personally need a captain.”

For supporters, the added boost to Saied’s vote for a new Constitution was fear that Ennahda, the Muslim political party that dominated Parliament before Saied dissolved, would return to power. . Mr. Saied and his supporters stoked longstanding fear among secular Tunisians in the lead up to the referendum.

However, low voter turnout reflects a waning of popular support for Mr Saied over the last year, as Mr. economic declineCorruption flourished and the president became increasingly authoritarian.

Tunisians question his focus above all on putting in place a new Constitution and implementing other political reforms at a time when the government is struggling to pay wages, the price of bread and other commodities. Other staples are high in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, and decent jobs still seem out of reach for many Tunisians.

Mr. Saied loses more support at the start ruled almost exclusively by decreeimprison opponents and critics and use military courts to try them, place restrictions on news media and gain control of formerly independent agencies such as The country’s top judicial oversight board and election authority.

Adhering to his one-man rule, all but about half a million Tunisians ignored Mr Saied’s call to join a Online survey about the future of the country. But the opposition remains fragmented, and offers no credible alternatives to those Tunisians with suspicions about Mr.

Still, the passage of the referendum – if not the resounding victory Mr Saied could have hoped for – was expected by many. Mr. Saied appointed the council of the former independent electoral body as well as the committee that drafted the new Constitution, and no minimum participation was required for the referendum to pass.

Campaigners against the proposal say the whole process leans towards “yes”, with government ministers urging Tunisians to support the new Constitution and partly state-funded media. big voice in support of Mistakes.

Massinissa Benlakehal contributed reporting from Tunis, Tunisia.

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