Polls open for Tunisians worldwide as low referendum turnout expected

Polls open for Tunisians worldwide as low referendum turnout expected
While protests against the constitution referendum build pace at home, hundreds of polling stations for the Tunisian diaspora have opened across Europe and beyond.
2 min read
24 July, 2022
Saied's proposed changes to the Tunisian constitution include huge centralisation of power around the presidency [Getty]

Voting is underway for Tunisians living abroad as President Saied seeks to ratify his divisive changes to the constitution in a controversial referendum.

The vote for Tunisians living abroad is taking place in 46 countries over three days before Tunisians cast their ballots on 25 July. 

An estimated 7% of Tunisians live outside of Tunisia, the majority of whom are based in France and across Europe. 

According to Farouk Bouaskar, head of the electoral commission, a total of 614 voting booths have been set up internationally to process voting in the Tunisian diaspora - primarily in Tunisian embassies and consulates. 

Turnout is widely expected to be weak, while much of Tunisian society is in uproar over the planned changes - which include huge centralisation of power in the office of the president. 

According to recent polls by the Economist, Kais Saied himself is losing his foothold with Tunisians at home and abroad, becoming increasingly unpopular as he tries to forge ahead with the plans. 

The proposed constitution would give the president powers to appoint and dismiss government ministers and declare a state of emergency, while removing parliament’s ability to scrutinise the president’s actions. 

Meanwhile, the Tunisian economy itself is in dire straits, as unemployment reaches 16% and inflation has hit over 8% so far this year. 

Changes to electoral law

Speaking to Arabi21, electoral observers group 'Morakebon' said it has witnessed a number of irregularities in the referendum process. 

“The legal framework for holding a referendum has undergone fundamental changes in a very short period of time - which is inconsistent with international norms” said director Raja al-Jabry. 

“The most important change is the restructuring of the independent electoral commission by presidential decree in April. President Saied has appointed - directly or indirectly - the members and head of the commission, who will be in place for a further four years,” she added. 

“International standards denounce making changes to electoral bodies or laws this close to such an important vote,” al-Jabry concluded. 

The rapid changes, according to Morakebon, place the independence of the commission under doubt and cast a shadow over President Saied’s respect for international voting conventions. 

Saied's initial power grab last year was welcomed by many Tunisians, sick of the often-stalemated post-revolution political system.

But critics have warned his moves risk a return to autocracy, a decade after the 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt.