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Tunisians vote on constitution to strengthen one-man rule

#Tunisians #vote #constitution #strengthen #oneman #rule

Tunisians will vote Monday on a constitution seen as a referendum on President Kais Saied, whose charter would give his office near-unchecked powers in a bid to break with the country’s post-2011 democratic trend.

Voting will run from 6:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) to 10:00 p.m. at some 11,000 polling stations across the North African country.

Around 9.3 million of the 12 million Tunisians – civilians over the age of 18 – chose to vote or were automatically registered, according to the ISIE Electoral Commission.

This includes around 356,000 people registered abroad for whom the elections began on Saturday.

The referendum comes exactly a year to the day after Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in a dramatic power grab as Tunisia grappled with rising coronavirus cases on top of political and economic crises.

Many Tunisians welcomed his moves against political parties and the often deadlocked parliament, part of a system long hailed as the only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab uprisings.

But after a year of one-man rule, during which he has vastly expanded his powers and made little headway in addressing deep economic woes, Saied’s personal popularity will be in the spotlight.

– All eyes on the turnout –

“The biggest unknown in this referendum is turnout and whether it will be low or very low,” said analyst Youssef Cherif.

No quorum has been set, no provision made for a “no” result, and Saied’s constitution for a “new republic” is widely expected to be passed.

Saied’s rivals, rights groups and international organizations have warned he risks turning the country back into a dictatorship, more than a decade after the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that sparked pro-democracy uprisings across the region.

Opposition parties and civil society groups have called for the boycott, while the powerful UGTT trade union has not officially commented on the vote.

Saied’s charter would replace the country’s 2014 constitution, a hard-fought compromise between Islamist-leaning and secular forces reached after three years of political unrest.

His supporters blame the hybrid parliamentary-presidential system he introduced and the dominant Islamist-leaning Ennahdha party for years of political crises and widespread corruption.

Saied’s draft was released earlier this month with little reference to an earlier draft prepared by a president-appointed committee.

The new text would put the head of state in supreme command of the army, give him full executive control and allow him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval.

He could also submit bills to Parliament, which would be obliged to give them priority.

It would be almost impossible to remove him from office before the end of his five-year term in 2024.

Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who headed the drafting committee, said Saied’s version was “completely different” from the committee’s and could install “a dictatorial regime”.

Saied released a slightly amended document just over two weeks before the vote, but even under the new draft it would be virtually impossible to force the president out of office.

– Revolutionary ‘Correction’ –

The draft has been heavily promoted in state media and posters featuring the Tunisian flag have surfaced urging people to vote ‘yes’.

“People don’t know what they’re voting on or why,” Cherif said.

Saied, a 64-year-old law professor, won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential election, building on his image as incorruptible and distant from the political elite.

In recent months he has appeared increasingly isolated, limiting his public comments to official videos from his office – often diatribes against domestic enemies, whom he calls “snakes”, “germs” and “traitors”.

He has vowed to protect Tunisians’ freedoms and describes his political project as “correcting” and returning to the path of revolution.

“Many young people who are marginalized and marginalized are on his side,” said political scientist Hamadi Redissi.

That popularity will be tested further in the coming months as Tunisians face soaring inflation, youth unemployment at 40 percent and a looming deal with the International Monetary Fund, which observers have warned will spell further economic woes could.

Cherif said that “the fact that people can freely express themselves or vote ‘no’ without going to jail shows that we are not in a traditional dictatorship”.

But, he added, “this constitution could create an authoritarian regime similar to the regimes Tunisia experienced before 2011.”

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#Tunisians #vote #constitution #strengthen #oneman #rule

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