Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, has set up a voluntary multiple-choice questionnaire online to solicit citizen input as he prepares the constitution for reworking after dismissing parliament last year.
But in the country of 12 million, only 276,000 people have participated in the survey with two weeks to go, according to the survey website. The President’s critics have charged that the consultative process is a charade.
In December, the 64-year-old announced he would appoint a committee to revise the constitution with the people’s input and put it to the people in a referendum by June.
He claims his intervention was the result of a decade of political and economic stagnation brought about by a corrupt, self-serving elite.
“The future of Tunisia is in the hands of Tunisians and it is their intensive participation that will pave the way towards a new stage in the history of Tunisia based on the real popular will and not on fake legitimacy,” Saied said in January.
Critics say the president’s actions have undermined the democracy won in the 2011 revolution that sparked uprisings across the Middle East.
Saied is imposing his preferred political system through the public consultation on the constitution, the latest step in his march to near-total power, critics say.
A number of political parties and the powerful UGTT labour union have also expressed their disapproval of Saied’s plan, and some said he seemed to be prejudging the results before the survey was conducted.
During his January address, he said the results so far had clearly shown that people preferred a presidential system.
Among his opponents – and Tunisia’s main foreign donors – are those who believe a truly inclusive process should include all the country’s main political actors.
Saied proposes to replace the 2014 constitution, which was hailed at the time as a triumph of compromise between rival factions that averted a dangerous period of polarization.
After the agreement was made, rival politicians wept on the floor as they embraced.
Its mixed parliamentary and presidential system proved paralyzing, and squabbling politicians failed to establish a constitutional court to resolve disputes.
The landslide victory of Saied in Tunisia’s second round of presidential elections in 2019 was seen by many as a rejection of its entire political class.
Pro-Saied volunteers set up a stall on a cafe balcony near Tunis university for enrolment on a recent cold, rainy day near Tunis university.
An item on the survey asks which kind of political system is best: parliamentary, presidential, or a hybrid of all three.
A second asks whether the government should focus on electoral reform or constitutional reform. There are also questions about economics and social issues.
Publicity campaigns have been launched by regional governors, state officials, university authorities, and publicly owned companies to promote the consultation.
Saied accused counter-revolutionaries of trying to torpedo the election process while the Minister for Youth blamed technical issues and poor Internet penetration for the low turnout.
He suggested Tuesday that free internet access could increase participation rates.
As a crisis in public finances looms, Saied’s constitutional tinkering appears divorced from Tunisians’ daily lives of low employment, rising prices, and shortages of some goods.
People responding to his internet offer posted on the presidential social media feed that they were online, but in need of bread.
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