Tunisians Vote on New Constitution Expanding President’s Power

Tunisians began on Monday voting in referendum on a new Constitution put forward by President Kais Saied.

Polling stations opened at 6 a.m. local time (05:00GMT), and according to the Independent High Authority for Elections, over 9 million people are registered to take part in the referendum.

Since July 25, 2021, Tunisia has been undergoing a severe political crisis, when Saied sacked government and suspended the parliament.

Tunisian forces consider these measures a “coup against the Constitution,” but others see them as a “correction of the course of the 2011 revolution,” which overthrew then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

While nearly all major political parties and civil society organisations have denounced his unilateral approach to rewriting the constitution and the legitimacy of the referendum, they have failed to build a united front.

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Disunity was visible in protests against Saied in recent days. The Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament, took part in a protest on Saturday. Civil society organisations and smaller parties held one on Friday. A party that backed the pre-revolution autocracy held its own on both days.

The protests attracted only small numbers, but rallies organised by Saied supporters have also had only modest attendance and there has been little sign of excitement around the campaign.

Most Tunisians seem more focused on the dire state of the economy and rising prices.

However, the economic decline since 2011 has left many people angry at the parties that have governed since the revolution and disillusioned with the political system they ran.

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Of the three parliamentary elections and two presidential elections since the revolution, the lowest turnout, of 41%, was in 2019 for the chamber that Saied has dissolved.

A turnout on Monday far below that rate would further call into question the legitimacy of Saied’s new constitution and his project to remake Tunisian politics.

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