UN to review new Tunisia constitution as opposition rejects referendum

UN to review new Tunisia constitution as opposition rejects referendum
Opposition parties have accused Tunisia's electoral commission of inflating voter numbers and human rights groups have warned that already waning civil liberties could disappear altogether once the constitution takes effect.
3 min read
28 July, 2022
The UN has said it will look into Tunisia's constitution referendum [Anadolu via Getty]

The United Nations said on Wednesday that it would be reviewing Tunisia's new constitution, which grants President Kais Saied sweeping powers.

Condemnation of the document from opposition parties and human rights groups continues to mount.

Monday's referendum, ordered by Saied, saw 95 percent of participants vote in favour of the constitution, according to the country's electoral commission.

"We'll review this legislation, this referendum… this language in the referendum that has now been certified," Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the UN Secretary-General told the press at a daily briefing at the UN's New York headquarters.

Monday's referendum took place almost exactly a year after Saied suspended parliament and sacked the government in what was widely seen as a coup.

Saied has since conducted a power grab, clamping down on his political opponents and granting himself sweeping powers over the country's judiciary.

Voter turnout for the referendum was low, with the electoral commission putting it at 30.5% - but opposition groups have said turnout was likely even lower.

Issam Chebbi, Secretary-General of the centre-left Republican Party that is part of the 'National Campaign to Overthrow the Referendum', accused the electoral commission of "adjusting the numbers".

Chebbi said voter participation actually stood at 27.5 percent and was hiked up by adding the votes of 400,000 people who took part after polls were closed.

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Elsewhere, the head of Tunisia's National Salvation Front Ahmed Najib Chebbi also suggested voter numbers had been inflated.

"The front will meet and study the issue... and consider filing a lawsuit with the public prosecution to challenge the results of the referendum," Chebbi told Arabi 21.

The new constitution is set to come into effect on 27 August.

It will replace the constitution adopted by Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly in January 2014 that Amnesty International has said "contained strong human rights safeguards" and came about through "a two-year-long inclusive and transparent process".

Opposition parties and human rights groups have warned of the disappearance of already waning civil liberties once the new referendum takes effect.

"We are facing a dictatorship, and a political catastrophe that will follow an economic and social catastrophe," Hamma Hammami, secretary-general of the Workers' Party that is also part of the National Campaign to Overthrow the Referendum said Wednesday.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday that the adoption of the new constitution marks a new setback in human rights.

"It is deeply worrying that Tunisia has adopted a new constitution that undermines human rights and jeopardizes the progress made since the 2011 revolution," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"This new constitution must not serve as justification to go back on Tunisia’s commitments under international human rights law," Morayef said.