Tunisians approve new constitution that undermines democracy.

Tunisians have approved a new constitution that strengthens the one-man rule established by President Qais Said over the past year, according to the results of a referendum on Tuesday, a major effort since the ouster. And the democracy built with great hopes suffered a severe blow. More than a decade ago, the country’s dictator.

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings began more than a decade ago, has been hailed internationally as the only democracy to take hold in the region. But that chapter effectively ended with the approval of a new charter, which included the near-absolute powers Mr. Said had granted himself a year earlier when he suspended parliament and appointed his prime minister. was dismissed.

Yet Monday’s referendum was marred by widespread boycotts, voter apathy and a heavy tilt towards Mr Saeed. According to results released by the Electoral Authority, 94.6 percent of voters approved the constitution.

“The crowds that have come out across the country today show the importance of this moment,” Mr Said told cheering supporters in Tunis hours after polls closed. “Today is a new chapter of hope and turning the page on poverty, despair and injustice.”

In his comments, Mr Saeed denied any tendency towards authoritarianism. But the new constitution will return Tunisia to a presidential system similar to the one it had under dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the so-called Jasmine Revolution of 2011. Giving the head of state final authority to form the government, appoint judges and make existing laws

It preserves most of the provisions of the 2014 Constitution on rights and freedoms. But unlike the previous constitution, which divided power between parliament and the president, the new constitution relegates the legislature and judiciary to more akin to civil servants, giving the president sole authority to appoint government ministers and judges. and undermines the capacity of Parliament. To withdraw confidence from the government.

Capturing years of political paralysis, the referendum could signal the end of a young democracy that many Tunisians saw as corrupt and woefully inadequate in guaranteeing bread, freedom and dignity – the ideals they fought for in 2011. I shouted slogans.

But with turnout down around 30 percent and most major political parties boycotting the vote to avoid giving it much legitimacy, Mr. Saeed now stands on slippery ground, questioning his ability to push through further reforms. Is.

The democratic system’s inability to provide good jobs and put food on the table, end widespread corruption or introduce much-needed reforms has forced many Tunisians to look to Mr. Said for salvation. The former constitutional law professor was elected to the presidency in 2019 because he was a political outsider.

According to one, by 2021, two-thirds of Tunisians associate democracy with instability, indecision and a weak economy. Arab Barometer Survey.

A year ago, when Mr. Said seized power, the streets of the capital, Tunis, were in a state of celebration. Polls showed an overwhelming majority of Tunisians supported his actions, even as opponents and analysts called them a coup. But he called his seizure of power necessary to fulfill the long-standing goals of the revolution and rid the country of corruption.

“If you tell me about democracy or human rights and all these things, we haven’t seen any of that in the last 10 years,” said Rifaa Boundi, a 50-year-old bank employee who has been working in central Tunis. I voted yes. Monday. “What is happening today, I call it a new era in a good sense. It cannot be worse than the last decade.

He said that he had no objection to the Constitution’s concentration of powers in the hands of the President. “A boat needs a captain,” he said. “Personally, I need a captain.”

For supporters, an added incentive to vote for Mr. Said’s new constitution was the fear that Ennahda, the Islamist political party that dominated parliament before Mr. Said dissolved it, would return to power. Mr. Said and his supporters stoked this long-held fear among secular Tunisians in the lead-up to the referendum.

The low turnout, however, reflects the weakening of Mr. Saeed’s popular support over the past year, as the economy slumped, corruption flourished and the president became increasingly authoritarian.

Tunisians have questioned their focus on implementing a new constitution and other political reforms at a time when the government is struggling to pay wages, bread and other supplies as a result of the war in Ukraine. Commodity prices were rising, and good jobs still seemed out of reach for many Tunisians.

Mr. Saeed lost much support when he began to rule almost exclusively by decree, imprisoning opponents and critics and using military courts to try them, restrictions on the news media. Lagna and took over previously independent institutions such as the country’s Supreme Judicial Oversight Council and Election Authority.

Embittered by their one-man rule, nearly five million Tunisians ignored Mr. Said’s calls to take part in an online survey about the country’s future. But the opposition remained fragmented, and failed to offer a credible alternative to Tunisians with misgivings about Mr. Said.

Still, passage of the referendum – if by no means the resounding victory Mr Said had hoped for – was widely expected. Mr. Saeed appointed the board of the former Independent Election Authority as well as the committee that drafted the new constitution, and there was no minimum turnout required for the referendum to pass.

Campaigners against the proposal said the entire process was skewed towards “yes”, with government ministers calling on Tunisians to support the new constitution and large-scale coverage in state-funded media. The voices of Saeed Nawaz were included.

Masinissa Benlakiel contributed reporting from Tunis, Tunisia.