Tunisians head to the polls Monday to vote on a new constitution — a controversial initiative spearheaded by Tunisian President Kais Saied that critics say will formalize his power grab and reverse hard-won democratic gains in the North African nation.
Saied has urged Tunisians to back the proposal, despite electoral standards requiring that he remain neutral. The vote will be supervised by the Independent High Authority for Elections, whose members he appointed.
Magistrate Ahmed Souab, the constitution represents a “danger for democracy” because it does not guarantee a clear balance of powers and gives more prerogatives to Saied than those held by previous Tunisian strongmen.
Numerous civil society groups have rejected the new constitution. The Tunisian non-governmental group Al Bawsala says the new constitution would lead to a monopolization of power that would threaten every citizen’s rights and freedoms.
Benzid believes Saied is relying on the widespread discontent caused by the mismanagement of public affairs in the decade since Tunisia’s revolution.
The proposed constitution has split Tunisia’s opposition. Only one party, Afek Tounes, has said it will vote against the proposal. Most political parties, including Tunisia’s influential Islamist party Ennahdha, say they plan to boycott Monday’s referendum so as not to legitimize the process.
“We refuse to go to the funeral of democracy,” said Republican Party leader Issam Chebbi, adding that he considers “the absolute personal power” that Saied wants to grant himself “worse than that of Ben Ali.”
Tunisian activist Henda Fellah tweeted Sunday that she had decided to boycott the vote, saying the text is built on a flawed foundation and that its violations of electoral law were “countless.”
“This would be the first time I’m not voting since 2011,” Fellah said.
Many observers expect low voter turnout for the referendum, highlighting Tunisians’ disenchantment with politics and their daily struggles coping with rising inflation.
The preliminary results are expected to be announced by Wednesday, with a final result on Aug. 28.