According to the results of a referendum that were released on Tuesday, Tunisians voted in favor of a new constitution that will cement the one-man rule that President Kais Saied has instituted over the past year. This will be a body blow to the democracy that was built in Tunisia with a tremendous amount of effort and high hopes following the overthrow of the country’s dictator more than a decade ago.
It was in Tunisia in 2011 that the Arab Spring revolutions first got their start. Since then, the rest of the world has hailed the country as the sole democracy to emerge unscathed from the wave of revolts that swept across the region. But with the adoption of the new charter, which solidifies Mr. Saied’s almost unchecked power that he gave himself a year ago when he shut down Parliament and fired his prime minister, that chapter is almost over.
The referendum that took place on Monday, despite this, was undermined by widespread boycotts, apathy among voters, and a setup that was excessively weighted in Mr. Saied’s favor. According to the results that were made public by the election administration, the Constitution received approval from 94.6 percent of voters. A few hours after the polls closed, Mr. Saied gave an address to his supporters in the downtown area of Tunis. He noted that the significance of the moment was shown by the throngs of people who turned out today across the country. “Turning the page on poverty, hopelessness, and injustice begins today.”
Mr. Saied has denied that there is any drift toward authoritarianism in his words. However, the new Constitution will return Tunisia to a presidential system similar to the one it had under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the authoritarian ruler who was overthrown in 2011 during the so-called Jasmine Revolution. In addition, it reduces the power of Parliament and most of the other checks and balances on the president’s power. At the same time, it gives the president the final power to form a government, choose judges, and propose laws.
It maintains the majority of the provisions of the Constitution of 2014 that deal with rights and liberties. However, in contrast to the previous Constitution, which split power between Parliament and the president, the new Constitution reduces the legislative branch and the judicial branch to a status that is more akin to that of civil servants. It also gives the president the sole power to choose ministers and judges for the government, and it makes it harder for Parliament to pull its support from the government.