Tunisian opposition vows to fight results of referendum on ‘authoritarian’ constitution

Tunisian opposition vows to fight results of referendum on ‘authoritarian’ constitution
Major Tunisian political parties have vowed to fight the results of a referendum on a new constitution described as ‘authoritarian’, pointing out that the majority of eligible voters stayed away from the polls.
3 min read
27 July, 2022
Tunisia's new constitution has been widely condemned as 'authoritarian', giving unrestricted power to President Kais Saied [Getty]

Major Tunisian political parties and organisations have rejected the results of a referendum on a controversial new constitution giving broad powers to President Kais Saied, with the global human rights organisation Amnesty International also condemning the new charter.

The constitution, described as ‘authoritarian’ by critics, places the president in command of the army, allows him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval, and makes him virtually impossible to remove from office.

Final results showed that 94.6% of voters voted “yes” to the constitution, but with only 30.5% of eligible voters bothering to turn out.

Opposition groups had earlier called for a boycott of the poll. It was the lowest turnout for any vote held in Tunisia since 2011, when a revolution overthrew long-time dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The head of the National Salvation Front coalition of opposition parties, Ahmed Najib El-Chebbi, told Arabi 21 that the front “does not recognise the results of the referendum and will challenge them before the judiciary”.

“The 2014 constitution remains our reference. It is possible to modify it if necessary and with the agreement of all.”

He called on Saied to hold early presidential and parliamentary elections while saying that Tunisian political forces should “hold a national dialogue which excludes the president, who has removed himself [from the process] because of the illegal and unconstitutional measures he took”.

The referendum on the constitution came almost exactly a year after Saied suspended parliament and sacked the government of former Prime Minister Hichem Michechi in July 2021, in what was described as a “coup” and a “power grab”.

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“Farcical” referendum

Former Speaker of Parliament Rached El-Ghannouchi, who heads the moderate Islamist Ennahdha Party, described the referendum as a “farce”, saying that the majority of Tunisians had rejected it.

“75 percent of the Tunisian people refused Kais Saied’s call,” he told the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera Mubasher.

“The constitution’s measures are void and its contents take us back to a dictatorship which Tunisia lived through before the 2011 revolution.”

Until Saied’s 2021 power grab, Tunisia was considered the only success story of the 2011 Arab Spring, with a functioning democracy and free elections. However, there had been much criticism of the political elite, with accusations of corruption directed at MPs and ministers.

“The Tunisian people have fought and will fight against dictatorship, because they tasted freedom for 10 years, and they will not give up even though the past 10 years were not exemplary,” Ghannouchi added.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, added her voice to the criticism.

“It is deeply worrying that Tunisia has adopted a new constitution that undermines human rights and jeopardizes the progress made since the 2011 revolution.

“The new constitution dismantles many of the guarantees to the independence of judiciary, removes protection for civilians from military trials and grants the authorities the power to restrict human rights,” she said in a statement.