The low voter turnout revealed that President Kais will face a major challenge in turning the public sentiment in his favour.

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s new constitution gets approval by 92.3 percent of the voters, as revealed by an exit poll.

But the voter turnout for the crucial referendum, set to give Saied much greater powers, stood at 25 percent. Tunisian laws do not set a minimum requirement for participation rate.

The opposition parties urged the people to boycott the vote, calling the president’s attempt “a coup that risks flinging Tunisia back into an autocratic era from before the revolution”.

While opposition parties are at the forefront condemning Saied and his actions, there is a lack of pushback in real sense on the ground.

“It is hard to pinpoint any single group with the necessary wherewithal and support to challenge Saied,” Emiliano Alessandri of the Washington-based Middle East Institute told Voice of America.

Tunisia was once hailed as the Arab Spring’s most successful story after it enforced a progressive constitution with inputs from all stakeholders in the country. But that could change now, as the country is on its way to adopt the new constitution proposed by Saied. 

What’s in the new constitution?

Saied is accused of rewriting the version of the constitution submitted to him by a panel he appointed for the purpose and published its draft less than a month ago. 

On the surface of it, the new constitution entails greater presidential powers, a redefined role on religion and reduced judicial powers, among other things.

As Tunisia's political system will move to a presidential one, it is the reduction in judicial powers that has been an important talking point for opposition parties and rights activists. 

Saied has, in the past, openly voiced criticism and showed his annoyance at the judiciary for stalled corruption cases in courts against politicians and businessmen. In March, he replaced the country’s Supreme Judicial Council—a body mandated to appoint or dismiss judges—and later in June fired 57 judges.

Vote’s legitimacy

A low turnout has raised questions about the legitimacy of the exercise, with Ennahda, the biggest political party, urging Saied to resign after what they say is his failure “to secure popular backing for his coup”.

The low turnout rate, however, is not easily comparable to previous elections because Tunisia now automatically registers voters. The previous lowest participation rate was 41 percent in 2019 for the parliament that Saied dissolved exactly a year ago on July 25, 2021.

The critics of the president cite a number of other factors where they say the vote’s integrity has been compromised, such as Saied handpicking the electoral commission overseeing the process and the presence of fewer independent observers than previous elections.

Not paying any heed to his critics, Saied calls the referendum as “foundation of a new republic”.

Tunisia’s economic decline since 2011 has left many Tunisians angry at the parties that have governed since the revolution and disillusioned with the political system they ran. It is for this reason that when Saied dissolved an elected assembly last year, there was little resistance.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies