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Tunisia gives more powers to the president in the first referendum in its history amid suspicions of irregularities

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Tunisians voted this Monday in favor of having a new constitution that will strengthen the powers of the head of state, Kais Saied. The president of the electoral authority, Farouk Bouakser reported the preliminary results of the vote that confirmed the victory of the “yes” to the new model with 94.6%. However the high level of abstention, 70%, questions the guarantee of the referendum and its “political legitimacy”.

The opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (FSN), what did you ask for boycott the voteaccused the electoral authority on Tuesday of having “amplified” and “forged” participation data. According to the agency, only the 27.54% of the 9.3 million voters registered voted. An exit poll had anticipated a “yes” victory for the Constitution among 92% and 93%. On the last 2019 Legislative Elections, the participation rate was 32%.

Tunisiacradle of Arab Springsuffers an economic crisis aggravated by the covid and the war in ukraine, on which it depends for its wheat imports. The country is highly polarized since Saied, elected in 2019, concentrated all powers in his hands on July 25, 2021, arguing that the country was ungovernable. But the opposition FSN, of which the Ennahda Islamist Movement, considered that “75% of Tunisians refused to give their approval to the coup project released a year ago by Kais Saied”.

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Said Banerbiaof the NGO International Commission of Jurists, criticized for his part the vote legitimacy. “Any constitution that results [de ese voto] does not reflect the view of the majority of the Tunisians and lacks democratic legitimacy and national appropriation”he told AFP. For the analyst Youssef Cherif, “Most people have voted for the man [Kais Saied] or against your opponents, not by your text.”

It is the case of Noureddine al-Rezgui, a bailiff working in Tunisia. “The Tunisians they want to get rid of the old system and take a new turn,” he said. Al-Rezgui relativized the low turnout, as did the expert Abellatif Hannachi, that he judged it “respectable considering that the vote was organized in the summer, during the holidays and in the heat of the day”.

celebrating victory

After disclosing the exit poll of the consultancy Sigma Council on national television, hundreds of Saied supporters came out to celebrate the victory in vehicle caravans through the center of the capital waving flags and honking horns.

The president appeared in front of the crowd where declared that Tunisia had “entered a new phase”, according to local television. The new Magna Carta It will allow us to go from “a situation of despair to one of hope,” he added.

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Much of the support came from “the most impacted middle class” for years of economic crisisa, analyzed Sigma Conseil. Saied’s critics warn that the new constitution will tie down presidential powers and open “the door to a dictatorial regime“, according to Sadeq Belaid, a mentor of Saied who participated in the drafting of the text, but rejected the final document.

The text, which breaks with the parliamentary system in force since 2014, puts the president in charge of the army, allows him to appoint a government without legislative approval, and makes it impossible to remove him.

Course Correction

The 64-year-old president wields power in an increasingly solitary way. Saied considers that the constitutional reform is an extension of the “course correction” that began on July 25, 2021 when, alleging political and economic blockades, he dismissed his prime minister and temporarily suspended the functions of Parliament before dissolving it in March.

For the analyst Youssef Cherif, the spaces of freedom continue to be guaranteed, but the question of returning to a dictatorial regime similar to that of the former autocrat Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, could be raised “in the post-Kais Saied era”. For many experts, Saied’s political future will depend on his ability to revive a poor economic situation, with youth unemployment at 40%.

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