Tunisians Approve New Constitution That Undercuts Democracy

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Tunisians permitted a brand new Structure that cements the one-man rule instituted by President Kais Saied over the previous yr, in response to 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 greater than a decade in the past, was internationally lauded as the one democracy to outlive the revolts that swept the area. However that chapter successfully ended with the passage of the brand new constitution, which enshrines the virtually absolute energy that Mr. Saied conferred on himself a yr 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 permitted by 94.6 p.c of voters, in response to the outcomes launched by the electoral authority.

“The plenty that got here out as we speak throughout the nation present the importance of this second,” Mr. Saied stated in an deal with to cheering supporters in downtown Tunis a couple of hours after the polls closed. “Right now 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 underneath 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 skill to withdraw confidence from the federal government.

Capping years of political paralysis, the referendum may spell the top 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 larger legitimacy, Mr. Saied now stands on slippery floor, his skill to hold out additional reforms in query.

The lack of the democratic system to ship 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 legislation 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 financial system, in response to an Arab Barometer survey.

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

“Should 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 occurring as we speak, I name it a brand new period, in a great sense. It will possibly’t be worse than it was during the last 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 social gathering that dominated Parliament earlier than Mr. Saied dissolved it, would return to energy. Mr. Saied and his backers stoked that longstanding worry amongst secular Tunisians throughout the lead-up to the referendum.

The low turnout, nonetheless, displays the weakening of Mr. Saied’s fashionable assist during the last yr, because the financial system 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 had been hovering because of the warfare in Ukraine, and respectable jobs nonetheless appeared far out of attain for a lot of Tunisians.

Mr. Saied misplaced extra assist when he began to rule nearly completely by decree, jailing opponents and critics and utilizing navy courts to attempt them, inserting restrictions on the information media and seizing management of previously impartial 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 1,000,000 Tunisians ignored Mr. Saied’s calls to take part in a web-based 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 extensively anticipated. Mr. Saied appointed the board of the previously impartial elections authority in addition to the committee that drafted the brand new Structure, and no minimal participation was required for the referendum to cross.

Those that campaigned towards the proposal stated the complete course of was tilted towards the “sure” facet, with authorities ministers calling for Tunisians to assist 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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