Tunisia: Can President Saied deliver change with new constitution?

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Wednesday, 17 August 2022 15:22

Supporters of president Kais Saied light flares as they celebrate after exit poll indicates voters backed new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia July 25, 2022. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Tunisia's new constitution will come into effect after the country's electoral commission announced the overwhelmingly positive referendum results on Tuesday.

The results of the referendum, 96% for giving the president far greater powers, remained largely unchanged from the preliminary results announced last month.

The accord was approved by just over 2.6 million people, according to electoral board president Farouk Bouasker, despite a low turnout of 30.5%.

Critics critique the way Saied has written the constitution is unlawful, and have raised concerns over the legitimacy of the referendum after the President replaced the electoral commission board.

Last week, a court dismissed protests against the vote, supporting Saied and his supporter’s stance that the vote was valid. Farouk Bouasker said the court’s rejection of appeals “confirmed the integrity and transparency of ISIE”, Tunisia’s electoral commission.

Absolute power

Despite a clear victory, opponents of President Kais Saied, whose original campaign focused on anti-corruption and improving the electoral system, say the new constitution will unravel the progress the country has made post the 2011 revolution, giving the president close to absolute powers.

In July 2021 in an unexpected move, President Saied fired the country’s prime minister, and suspended its democratically elected parliament for 30 days, assuming all executive power.

The self-coup President justified his actions using Article 80 of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, which allows the President to assume full control if the country is facing “imminent danger”, and to take “any measures necessitated by the exceptional circumstances.”

Saied has used this same argument to assume power with a referendum as he claims the political system had to change to save Tunisia from years of stagnation and political paralysis – and has defended the process by which he passed the constitution.

This restructuring puts the President in command of the army, allows him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval and makes it practically impossible to remove him from office.

Saïd Benarbia, MENA regional director for the International Commission of Justice, blames the Tunisian army for Saied’s behaviour. In a tweet earlier this month, he said: “Had #Tunisian armed and security forces complied with and upheld the Constitution, Kais Saied’s power grab would never have succeeded.”

A country in crisis

Many of his supporters are dissatisfied with the current state of Tunisia, with high rates of unemployment among young people and inflation were seen currently throughout most of the continent. 4 million out of a population of 12 million remain in poverty.

Recently, the country has been negotiating a new loan with the International Monetary Fund, with the hope of getting $4bn to ease its current economic crisis.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options