Tunisians vote on a constitution that threatens their democracy.

Tunisians voted on Monday in a referendum on a new constitution that would greatly expand the powers of a president who over the past year has sidelined the other branches of government to rule alone. .

If approved, the referendum would include measures taken by President Qais Saeed exactly a year ago to centralize power in his hands, weakening parliament and other checks on the president. It will also give the head of state the final authority to form the government and appoint judges. and prescribe rules.

Opponents say such changes would signal the end of Tunisia’s democratic system, which was built after the overthrow of a dictatorship a decade ago, when anti-government protests in a small Tunisian town sparked uprisings across the Middle East. gave air to The new constitution will return to Tunisia. Presidential system Just as it did under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator who was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Mr. Saeed has said that changes are needed to rid the country of corruption and end the paralysis of its political system.

Coming after a speedy drafting process that largely excluded the opposition, the structure and even the timing of the referendum favored the new constitution, which was ratified and in part by Mr. Said. wrote Most major political parties urged supporters to boycott the vote, expecting a low turnout. Results are expected on Tuesday.

Alone among the countries that spanned the Arab Spring, Tunisia established a democracy, if a fragile and often dysfunctional one. He successfully held three free and fair elections, wrote a respectable and comprehensive constitution, established independent institutions and protected freedom of speech and the press.

However, it failed to increase economic opportunity or eliminate corruption.

The post-revolution era seems to be coming to an end.

The 2014 constitution, adopted three years after Mr. Ben Ali’s fall, divides power between the president and parliament to limit the powers of any president.

The new constitution preserves most of the 2014 constitution’s provisions on rights and freedoms, but relegates parliament to a secondary branch, with only the president empowered to appoint the prime minister, cabinet and judges. Parliament’s ability to withdraw confidence from the government has weakened.

The president can declare a state of emergency in the event of an “imminent threat” without time limits or oversight, and there is no provision for lifting it.

It will be surprising if Syed wins. His opponents pointed out that he controlled the former independent election authority as well as the committee that drafted the new constitution and that there was no minimum participation in the referendum for its passage.

Campaigners against the proposal said the whole process was skewed in Mr Saeed’s favour. Local officials canceled several anti-referendum rallies on security grounds, government ministers appointed by Mr. Said endorsed the draft and Mr. Said himself twice urged the public to vote yes.

During the voting, publicly funded television and radio stations devoted extensive airtime to covering supporters to the exclusion of most opponents. The security forces gave a befitting reply to the Syed opposition. protest Several hundred people with pepper spray, shoving and arrests over the weekend.

The date of the July referendum excluded the votes of many well-educated Tunisians who were on summer vacation.

“Those who are pushing ‘yes’, the entire administration and all the pro-Said forces are deeply organized, and on the other hand, those who are ready to say ‘no’ are not necessarily in the city,” said Fazil Abdul Kaifi, president. said Afek Tounes, one of the few political parties that decided to participate in the vote.

“When you have the president pushing people to vote and the whole town is covered in ads telling people to vote yes, that’s really unfair,” he added. It is.”

The vote came on the first anniversary of the day Mr. Saeed sacked his prime minister and suspended parliament amid nationwide protests over the crumbling economy and the government’s lackluster response to the coronavirus pandemic. .

A year ago, jubilant crowds flooded the capital, Tunis, hailing Mr. Said as a savior and his seizure of power as a much-needed cure for Tunisia’s corrupt, weak political system.

By contrast, this July found most Tunisians disaffected and apathetic, paying little heed to Mr. Said’s appeals for support at the ballot. The relentless heat kept them indoors. Summer vacations kept them at the beach. Urgent concerns about high prices and low wages as the nation’s economy spirals further into ruin have kept some people too busy to vote. Analysts said that political reform was thus not a major preoccupation.

“We are discussing the fate of a nation here, but many people have lost interest and confidence in the whole process,” said Amin Ghali, director of the Tunis-based Alkokibi Democracy Transition Center.

The run-up to the referendum had tipped the odds so heavily in Mr. Saeed’s favor that “it’s already being rigged,” Mr. Ghali said.

If turnout is low, it will reflect growing disaffection with the president, if not outright opposition.

Mr Said appealed to Tunisians to vote yes “to correct the course of the revolution”, as he promised to do when he took power last July. But many Tunisians who shouted for opportunity, dignity and freedom in the 2011 uprising have seen less and less of those ideals in the past year.

Hugely popular a year ago, Mr. Said bled support by prioritizing political reforms over the failing economy, even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent prices of bread and other staple foods soaring and hardship for many Tunisians. Expanded further.

Many political activists, civil society members, judges, lawyers and political parties initially supported Mr. Saeed’s actions. But he lost support when he began ruling by decree, arresting opponents, trying them in military courts and putting his own appointees in charge of previously independent government institutions, including the election authority. gave

A survey conducted by an international organization found that the percentage of respondents who had very favorable views of him dropped by about 20 points between November and May. The same poll, conducted before the opposition launched calls for a boycott, found in May that less than 30 percent of Tunisians strongly intended to take part in the referendum. That was down seven points from February, the last time the question was asked.

An early concrete sign that Tunisians were rejecting Mr. Said’s political proposals came in March, when less than 5 percent of Tunisians participated in an online survey on national preferences.

Undaunted, Mr. Saeed soon appointed a committee of constitutional law experts to draft a new constitution. There was some initial pushback from members who said their names appeared despite not having agreed to be on the committee’s roster. Some of Mr. Saeed’s former allies rejected the process because they said it lacked inclusiveness.

But the panel produced a draft. Within weeks.

This is in stark contrast to the 2014 constitution, which was debated by an elected assembly for more than two years.

In late May, the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe advisory body composed of independent constitutional law experts, said The draft constitution was neither legitimate nor credible. Mr. Saeed responded by criticizing the group, then expelling its members from Tunisia.

After revising the proposed constitution, Mr. Saeed emerged in late June with a version that gave the president even more powers than the previous version. Even the master, Mr. Saeed, handpicked the original manuscript, the Sadok Blade, to write it. warned that the amended version would “pave the way for a disgraceful dictatorship.”

Still, the president remained Tunisia’s most trusted leader earlier this year, according to a May survey by the international organization.

The poll gave the leader of Ennahda, which dominated parliament before Mr. Said’s dissolution, the least popular of all Tunisian leaders. The party is widely despised by many Tunisians, who blame it for a decade of government inaction.

Analysts said this helped explain what little support there was for the referendum. Ahead of the vote, pro-Sayed voices warned that if it failed, al-Ennahda would return to power and impose its conservative Islamic ideology on the country, which has given birth to a rogue force that has led to a dictatorship. has been terrorizing many Tunisian citizens for days.

Even with a new constitution, Mr Said’s deadlock on reforms, his legitimacy and his failure to fix the economy mean Tunisia is likely to remain. Caught in crisisanalysts said.

“It seems like a vain plan for him, but what happens next?” said Center for American Progress Fellow Gordon Gray, who served as U.S. ambassador to Tunisia from 2009 to 2012. Basically, it is not rights and economic development, which is not the most attractive. So how do Tunisians react to this, that is the question.