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Tunisian President welcomes vote to strengthen rule

#Tunisian #President #welcomes #vote #strengthen #rule

President Kais Saied said Tunisia “entered a new phase” on Tuesday, with a new constitution that will almost certainly pass in a referendum and concentrates almost all powers in his office.

Monday’s referendum came exactly a year to the day after Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament – a dramatic blow to the only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

There was little doubt that the “Yes” campaign would win, and an election poll indicated that the votes cast — just a quarter of the 9.3 million eligible voters — were overwhelmingly in favour.

Most of Saied’s rivals called for a boycott, and turnout, while low, was higher than the single-digit numbers many observers were expecting – at least 27.5 percent, according to Saied’s electoral board.

“Tunisia has entered a new phase,” said Saied, speaking to celebrating supporters in downtown Tunis hours after polling stations closed.

“What the Tunisian people have done … is a lesson for the world and a lesson for history on a scale by which history’s lessons are measured,” he said.

The National Salvation Front, a coalition of Saied’s main opponents, said the draft constitution would be enshrined in a “coup d’état” and “75 percent of Tunisians have refused to agree to a coup project”.

Saied, a 64-year-old law professor, dissolved parliament on July 25 last year and took control of the judiciary and the electoral commission.

Opponents say the moves are aimed at establishing an autocracy more than a decade after the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, while his supporters say they were necessary after years of corruption and political unrest.

– Untested Forces –

A state television poll of Yes voters found that “reforming the country and improving the situation” along with “support for Kais Saied/his project” were their main motives for supporting the constitution.

13 percent state that they are “convinced of the new constitution”.

Human rights groups and legal experts have warned that the bill gives the president sweeping, uncontrolled powers, allows him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval and makes it virtually impossible to remove him from office.

The charter “gives the president almost all powers and removes all control over his rule,” Said Benarbia, regional director of the International Judicial Commission, told AFP.

“None of the safeguards that could protect Tunisians from Ben Ali-type attacks are there anymore,” he added.

Saied has repeatedly threatened his enemies in recent months and published video diatribes against nameless enemies, whom he calls “germs”, “snakes” and “traitors”.

On Monday, he vowed “all those who have committed crimes against the country will be held accountable for their actions.”

Tunisia expert Youssef Cherif tweeted Tuesday that “most people voted for the man or against his opponents, but not for his document.”

– ‘Back on track’ –

Analyst Abdellatif Hannachi said the results meant Saied “can now do whatever he wants without considering others”.

“The question now is: What does the future of the opposition parties and organizations look like?”

As well as transforming the political system, Monday’s vote was seen as a gauge of Saied’s personal popularity, nearly three years after the political outsider won a landslide victory in Tunisia’s first democratic direct presidential election.

Hassen Zargouni, head of the Sigma Conseil group that conducted the Exit poll, said of the 7,500 voters polled, 92 to 93 percent were in the “yes” camp.

Turnout, forecast to be around 22 percent, is “pretty good” as about two million people have been automatically put on the electoral rolls since the 2019 general election, he told AFP.

Voter turnout has gradually declined since the 2011 revolution, from just over half in a parliamentary poll months after Ben Ali’s ouster to 32 percent in 2019.

Those who voted “yes” on Monday did so primarily to “put the country back on track and improve the situation,” Zargouni said.

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#Tunisian #President #welcomes #vote #strengthen #rule

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