The final results of a controversial referendum gifting unchecked powers to the office of Tunisia’s President Kais Saied showed 94.6 percent of votes in favour, the electoral authority said Tuesday.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the new constitution, the electoral board said, officially announcing definitive results from the July 25 poll. The charter was approved by just over 2.6 million people, the board’s president Farouk Bouasker told reporters.
However, the turnout understood to have been worrisomely low at a paltry 30.5 percent of the eligible citizens. The referendum came a year to the day after Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in what rivals have branded a subtle coup.
Despite the low turnout, Saied’s move against a system that emerged after the 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was welcomed by many Tunisians. Many citizens had become increasingly dissatisfied with high inflation and unemployment, political turmoil and a system they felt had brought little to no improvement to their lives.
However, opposition politicians and human rights groups have warned of a return to dictatorship under the new constitution. They queried the contents of the new changes which they deem contrary to the fundamental needs of an average Tunisian.
“The constitution comes into force with the announcement of the final results, its promulgation by the president and its publication in the official journal,” Bouasker said on Tuesday.
He said the fact that appeals against the referendum process had been rejected “confirmed the integrity and transparency of ISIE”, the North African country’s electoral commission.
Bouasker said ISIE had been subjected to “an unprecedented wave of allegations by certain political parties and civil society groups”.
The new supreme law puts the president in command of the army, allows him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval and makes it virtually impossible to remove him from office. The binding legal document also encompasses provisions that ensure that the President’s grip on power is unquestionable as he or she would be able to make unilateral decisions. The democratic tone of the new law has also been traversed.
He can also present draft laws to parliament, which will be obliged to give them priority. In addition to this, a second chamber is created within parliament to represent the regions and counterbalance the assembly itself.
Critics critique the way Saied has written the constitution is unlawful, and have raised concerns over the legitimacy of the referendum after the President replaced the electoral commission board. Flashback to July 2021, President Saied unexpectedly fired the country’s prime minister, and suspended its democratically elected parliament for 30 days, assuming all executive power.
The self-coup President justified his actions using Article 80 of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, which allows the President to assume full control if the country is facing “imminent danger”, and to take “any measures necessitated by the exceptional circumstances.” The new constitution is the latest step that Saied has taken towards consolidating his rule over the North African country.
Tunisia is mired in crisis with growth of just three percent, nearly 40 percent of young people jobless and four million people out of a population of nearly 12 million living below the poverty datum line.
For weeks the heavily indebted country has been negotiating a new loan with the International Monetary Fund, hoping to obtain $4 billion, and also the chance to open other avenues of foreign aid, mainly European.