Tunisians Approve New Constitution That Undercuts Democracy



Tunisians accredited a brand new Structure that cements the one-man rule instituted by President Kais Saied over the previous 12 months, in accordance with the outcomes of a referendum launched on Tuesday, dealing a physique blow to a democracy constructed with immense effort and excessive hopes after the overthrow of the nation’s dictator greater than a decade in the past.

Tunisia, the place the Arab Spring uprisings started in 2011, was internationally lauded as the only democracy to survive the revolts that swept the area. However that chapter successfully ended with the passage of the new charter, which enshrines the virtually absolute energy that Mr. Saied conferred on himself a 12 months in the past when he suspended Parliament and fired his prime minister.

Nonetheless the referendum on Monday was undercut by mass boycotts, voter apathy and a setup closely tilted towards Mr. Saied. The Structure was accredited by 94.6 p.c of voters, in accordance with the outcomes launched by the electoral authority.

“The plenty that got here out right this moment throughout the nation present the importance of this second,” Mr. Saied stated in an deal with to cheering supporters in downtown Tunis a number of hours after the polls closed. “At present marks a brand new chapter of hope and turning the web page on poverty, despair and injustice.”

In his remarks, Mr. Saied denied any tendency towards authoritarianism. However the brand new Structure will return Tunisia to a presidential system just like the one it had beneath Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the authoritarian ruler toppled within the so-called Jasmine Revolution of 2011. It additionally weakens Parliament and most different checks on the president’s energy whereas giving the pinnacle of state the last word authority to kind a authorities, appoint judges and current legal guidelines.

It preserves many of the 2014 Structure’s clauses regarding rights and liberties. However in distinction to the earlier Structure, which divides energy between Parliament and the president, the brand new one demotes the legislature and the judiciary to one thing extra akin to civil servants, granting the president alone the authority to nominate authorities ministers and judges and weakening Parliament’s capability to withdraw confidence from the federal government.

Capping years of political paralysis, the referendum might spell the tip of a younger democracy that many Tunisians had come to view as corrupt and woefully insufficient at guaranteeing bread, freedom and dignity — the beliefs they chanted for in 2011.

However with turnout low at about 30 p.c and most main political events boycotting the vote to keep away from lending it better legitimacy, Mr. Saied now stands on slippery floor, his capability to hold out additional reforms in query.

The State Division spokesman, Ned Value, famous the low turnout within the referendum and concern amongst civil society teams concerning the course of, together with “the shortage of an inclusive and clear course of and restricted scope for real public debate through the drafting of the brand new structure.”

“We additionally word considerations that the brand new structure contains weakened checks and balances that might compromise the safety of human rights and elementary freedoms,” Mr. Value stated at a each day press briefing.

The inability of the democratic system to deliver good jobs and put meals on the desk, clear up widespread corruption or produce much-needed reforms pushed many Tunisians to look to Mr. Saied for a rescue. The previous constitutional regulation professor was elected to the presidency in 2019 largely as a result of he was a political outsider.

By 2021, two-thirds of Tunisians related democracy with instability, indecision and a weak economic system, in accordance with an Arab Barometer survey.

When Mr. Saied seized energy a 12 months in the past, celebrations erupted within the streets of the capital, Tunis. Polls confirmed an amazing majority of Tunisians supported his actions, whilst opponents and analysts known as them a coup. However he declared his energy seize needed to satisfy the long-unmet objectives of the revolution and rid the nation of corruption.

“When you inform me about democracy or human rights and all that stuff, we haven’t seen any of it within the final 10 years,” stated Rafaa Baouindi, 50, a financial institution worker who forged a “sure” vote in downtown Tunis on Monday. “What is going on right this moment, I name it a brand new period, in an excellent sense. It will possibly’t be worse than it was over the past decade.”

He stated he didn’t thoughts the Structure’s focus of powers within the palms of the president. “A ship wants one captain,” he stated. “Personally, I want one captain.”

For supporters, an added spur to voting for Mr. Saied’s new Structure was the dread that Ennahda, the Islamist political get together that dominated Parliament earlier than Mr. Saied dissolved it, would return to energy. Mr. Saied and his backers stoked that longstanding concern amongst secular Tunisians through the lead-up to the referendum.

The low turnout, nevertheless, displays the weakening of Mr. Saied’s standard help over the past 12 months, because the economy declined, corruption flourished and the president grew more and more authoritarian.

Tunisians questioned his focus above all else on placing a brand new Structure in place and making different political reforms at a time when the federal government was struggling to pay wages, the costs of bread and different staples have been hovering on account of the struggle in Ukraine, and respectable jobs nonetheless appeared far out of attain for a lot of Tunisians.

Mr. Saied misplaced extra help when he began to rule almost exclusively by decree, jailing opponents and critics and utilizing navy courts to attempt them, putting restrictions on the information media and seizing management of previously unbiased our bodies such because the nation’s high judicial oversight council and the elections authority.

Souring on his one-man rule, all however about half one million Tunisians ignored Mr. Saied’s calls to take part in an online survey concerning the nation’s future. However the opposition remained fragmented, and failed to supply credible options to Tunisians with misgivings about Mr. Saied.

Nonetheless, the passage of the referendum — if in no way the resounding victory Mr. Saied may need hoped for — was broadly anticipated. Mr. Saied appointed the board of the previously unbiased elections authority in addition to the committee that drafted the brand new Structure, and no minimal participation was required for the referendum to go.

Those that campaigned towards the proposal stated all the course of was tilted towards the “sure” aspect, with authorities ministers calling for Tunisians to help the brand new Structure and state-funded media largely that includes pro-Saied voices.

Massinissa Benlakehal contributed reporting from Tunis, Tunisia.


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