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Tunisians approve new constitution in referendum

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, July 26th 2022 à 18:50 | Read 315 times

Kaïs Saïed spoke after his vote in the referendum (photo: Presidency of the Tunisian Republic)
Kaïs Saïed spoke after his vote in the referendum (photo: Presidency of the Tunisian Republic)
TUNISIA. The "yes" vote finally came out on top. Despite the stakes, the Tunisian referendum on the new constitution (ten chapters and 142 articles) did not draw crowds. The Independent High Electoral Authority (ISIE) estimates the turnout for the 25 July 2022 vote at 27.54%. Only 2.45 million of the 8.92 million registered voters came to cast a ballot, according to Farouk Bouasker, president of the ISIE. The polling institute Sigma Conseil estimated, at the end of the polling stations, that more than 90% of them had approved the text submitted by their President Kaïs Saïed. On Tuesday 26 July 2022, it refined the result to 92.3% of "yes". The ISIE was due to unveil the official figure at the end of the day on Tuesday 26 July 2022. However, it was still not available at the time of writing.

They were 2.77 million voters in the October 2019 presidential elections. The legislative elections of the same month had seen a turnout of 41.3% (68% in 2014).

This abstention is surprising as Tunisians were called to express themselves for the first time since the assumption of full powers by Kaïs Saïed in July 2021. And, what is more, on a new fundamental law intended to map out the country's future. A constitution "to establish a new Republic based on true freedom, true justice and national dignity", said the President on the morning of Monday 25 July 2022.

Kaïs Saïed will be able to pursue his roadmap

The disaffection of the ballot box can be explained by the population's lack of interest in politics. It is tired of waiting desperately for an improvement in social and economic conditions, according to the aspirations that led to the 2011 revolution. Another reason is the boycott instructions given by several opposition parties.
While it remains difficult to distinguish between the two, the evidence is clear. With an abstention of more than 70%, the "yes" obtained has little credit, while Kaïs Saïed hoped this referendum would be a plebiscite on his action.

Far from a carte blanche, the president elected in October 2019 with 72.71% of the vote will have to take into account all the data of this result. The presidential election had recorded participation rates ranging from 43.5% in Sidi Bouzid (city where the revolution began in December 2010) to 65.7% in Ben Arous (south of Tunis). The erosion of his support is obvious.

However, this vote authorises him to pursue his roadmap - which he presents as "a course correction" - because no quorum had been defined. After the implementation of the new constitution, which will replace the old one dating from 2014 and the post-revolution period, his new task is to succeed in the legislative elections. This election is scheduled for 17 December 2022 according to a new voting system precisely defined by the 2022 constitution. It will take place at a time when the only national assembly (Assembly of People's Representatives - ARP) has been suspended for a year before being simply dissolved by Kaïs Saïed. "The Tunisians were disappointed by the Assembly of People's Representatives, but the next Parliament will reflect their will with sincerity and authenticity, unlike what happened during the past decades," the President of the Republic assured on April 10, 2022.

Parliament will have two assemblies

Two assemblies will coexist: the ARP and the National Assembly of Regions. In the words of Sadok Belaïd, author of the text of the new constitution - before it was, to his great disapproval, amended by Kaïs Saïed - this fundamental law "undermines the legislative power, demagogically increases the powers of the President of the Republic and submits the judicial system to his will".

This is not the only criticism of the new constitution. The Civil Collective for the Defence of Freedom, Dignity and Social Justice (including the Tunisian Journalists' Union and the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights) see in this text a threat to democracy and in particular to media freedom.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said the text would return Tunisia to an "autocratic" regime by allowing the President of the Republic to concentrate judicial and legislative powers. He will be able to dismiss the head of government without having to justify himself, not even to the Parliament, propose bills to the Parliament which should examine them as a priority, ratify laws... In short, the regime will unquestionably be presidential. Sadok Belaïd criticises in particular the article on "imminent danger", which gives the President "very broad powers, under conditions that he alone determines, which could pave the way for a dictatorial regime."

Opposition refers to "falsified" participation figures

Several incidents were recorded on Monday 25 July 2025. Sami Ben Slama, a member of the ISIE, was banned from entering the Palais des Congrès in Tunis, which houses the ISIE's information centre. "No one will be allowed to disrupt the referendum process," Farouk Bouasker said soberly.
Kaïs Saïed's opponents also protested to the ISIE and the High Independent Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) after the President spoke about the new constitution on national television on the morning of the elections as he was leaving his polling station. The ISIE promised an examination of this alleged violation of electoral silence before the announcement of the final results.

On Tuesday 26 July 2022, the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition of opposition parties, accused the ISI of "falsifying" the figures on turnout before the official results were published. "The figures are amplified and do not correspond to what we have seen in the regions by observers," said Ahmed Néjib Chebbi. According to the FSN leader, the "no" won and "75% of voters refused to vote", which shows the "failure of the coup" of the President. "The only reference of legitimacy in the country is the 2014 Constitution and Kaïs Saïed must pave the way for general presidential and legislative elections", he continued. The DSF therefore calls on the President to leave his post.

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