Sunday September 25th, 2022 12:19AM

Tunisians vote on proposal to give president more power

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisians are voting Monday for a controversial new constitution put forward by President Kais Saied that critics say will formalize his power grab and reverse hard-won democratic gains in the North African nation.

Monday’s referendum marks one year to the day that Saied froze Tunisia’s parliament and dismissed his government — a move derided by critics as “a coup” but celebrated by Tunisians who had grown exasperated with the country’s political elites and years of economic stagnation. In the year since then, Saied has given himself the power to rule by decree and has fired dozens of judges, decisions that have provoked a series of protests.

The new constitution gives the office of the president all executive powers and removes key checks and balances. The power of Tunisia’s judiciary and parliament would be greatly reduced.

Critics warn that Saied’s new political structure could pave the way to a new autocracy in the country that rose up against former autocratic strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and kicked off the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests. Tunisia is the only nation to emerge with a democracy from those protests.

Saied says the changes are needed to eliminate corruption and “return the nation to the revolutionary path.”

After casting his vote in Tunis on Monday morning, Saied told the Associated Press that the referendum was a call to Tunisians everywhere “to partake in history, to create a new history.”

Saied rejected fears the constitution would revive a dictatorship, saying that citizens were able to protest and express themselves freely.

“There is no dictatorship, as I said in the explanatory document on rights and freedoms: this constitution protects (such freedoms), and the revolution is defended by a people who stand up to those who undermine it.”

Turnout was visibly low when polls in Tunis opened in Monday as witnessed by the AP. Many observers are expecting a low voter turnout, underscoring Tunisians’ disenchantment with politics and their daily struggles coping with rising inflation that has reached 8.1%.

Officially, however, authorities are reporting high turnout numbers. Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) President Farouk Bouaskar said 6.32% of ballots had been cast by 9:30am compared with 1.6% for the same time in the 2019 elections.

Despite the scorching heat, a handful of elderly voters turned up to cast their vote. One voter, Fatma, who did not wish to give her full name, said, “I waited for this opportunity to vote for a longtime. I hope that it brings good for the Tunisian people and the country.”

The drafting and organization of Monday’s referendum has been marred by controversy. Sadok Belaid, a constitutional law professor Saied brought in to head the committee drafting the new constitution, has denounced the result — which was extensively revised by the president — saying it “contains considerable risks and shortcomings” that could pave the way for "a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”

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.

A former constitutional law professor, Saied ran for the presidency on a populist, anti-corruption platform in 2019, winning with over 70% of the votes in the second round.

Supporters of Saied believe the new constitution will put an end to years of political deadlock.

Fatma Ben Salah, a pro-Saied civil society activist, says it's “abnormal” that the 2014 constitution gives more power to the prime minister than a president elected by a large majority. Ben Salah says Tunisia became ungovernable due to years of conflict between the three branches of government, accentuating the economic and social crises plaguing the country whose unemployment rate stands at more than 16%.

Former Minister Hatem El Euchi believes the unification of executive power could ensure stability, revive the economy and investment and create jobs.

But for Tunisian magistrate Ahmed Souab, the constitution represents a “serious 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.

“(This) does not provide any control mechanism, even in the event of a flagrant violation of the constitution by the president," Al Bawsala communications officer Haythem Benzid told The Associated Press.

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.

Saied sidestepped an AP question whether a low turn out would cast doubt on the referendum's validity.

Bouaskar, the ISIE president, said that the voting process was being monitored by 5,678 observers, including 124 foreigners.

The preliminary results are expected to be announced by Wednesday, with a final result on Aug. 28.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Presidential Election News, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Big Papi a big hit at his Baseball Hall of Fame induction
Former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was inducted into the Hall of Fame as legions of fans cheered him
2:46AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Tunisians vote on proposal to give president more power
Tunisians are heading to the polls to vote on a new constitution
2:38AM ( 16 minutes ago )
'The money is gone': Evacuated Ukrainians forced to return
Tens of thousands of people who evacuated from Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region are returning to homes close to the front line because they can’t afford to live in safer places
2:18AM ( 36 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Authorities: 7 hurt in shooting at Los Angeles park
At least seven people have been injured after gunfire erupted at a Los Angeles park
12:14AM ( 2 hours ago )
North Korea pushes traditional medicine to fight COVID-19
North Korea has recently reported fewer than 200 daily fever cases amid its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak and says its traditional “Koryo” herbal medicines are playing a key role in curing patients
12:10AM ( 2 hours ago )
Alaska experiencing wildfires it's never seen before
Alaska is burning this year in ways rarely or ever seen
12:07AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Alex Jones' defamation trial finally set to begin in Texas
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is set to face a defamation trial over his false comments that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax
11:50PM ( 3 hours ago )
As heat records fall in Northeast, some city dwellers flee
City residents in the Northeast are fleeing a hot spell in favor of pools, beaches and forests
8:25PM ( 6 hours ago )
Pope lands in Canada, set for apologies to Indigenous groups
Pope Francis has landed in Canada, beginning a historic visit to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses by missionaries at residential schools
8:13PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Jan. 6 panel deepens probe to Trump Cabinet, awaits Thomas
The House Jan. 6 committee plans to interview more former Cabinet secretaries and is prepared to subpoena conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, who’s married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as part of its investigation of the Capitol riot and Donald Trump’s role
4:20PM ( 10 hours ago )
Yellen downplays US recession as wave of economic data looms
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the U.S. economy is slowing but pointed to healthy hiring as proof that it is not yet in recession
3:52PM ( 11 hours ago )
Albania's newly sworn-in president urges political unity
Albania’s new president has been sworn in
3:31PM ( 11 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Investigators: Attacker 'did not know who' Zeldin was
A man accused of attacking New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin during a recent campaign rally told investigators he’d been drinking that day and didn’t know who the congressman was
7:37PM ( 1 day ago )
Russia hits Ukraine's Black Sea port despite grain deal
Russian missiles have struck Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa just hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from there
5:11PM ( 1 day ago )
Protesters in UK decry climate change after record heat wave
Protesters have turned out on the streets of London and Glasgow to demand faster action against climate change
12:59PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Congress News
Asian shares start week lower, tracking Wall St retreat
Asian shares have opened mostly lower after a retreat on Wall Street
12:07AM ( 2 hours ago )
Josef Newgarden taken to hospital; Pato O'Ward wins at Iowa
Josef Newgarden collapsed in the motorhome lot following his late crash Sunday at Iowa Speedway and was taken to a Des Moines hospital by helicopter for evaluation
11:22PM ( 3 hours ago )
China adds science lab to its orbiting space station
China has added a laboratory to its permanent orbiting space station as it moves toward completing the structure in coming months
10:22PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
Russia FM visits Egypt, part of Africa trip amid Ukraine war
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials as his country seeks to break diplomatic isolation and sanctions by the West over its invasion of Ukraine
11:11AM ( 15 hours ago )
Rights groups urge Sri Lanka not to use force on protesters
International human rights groups have urged Sri Lanka’s new president to immediately order security forces to cease use of force against protesters after troops and police cleared their main camp following months of demonstrations over the country’s economic meltdown
11:07AM ( 1 day ago )
Russia, Ukraine trade missile strikes on war's 150th day
A Ukrainian governor says Russia’s military fired a barrage of missiles at an airfield and a railway facility in central Ukraine
5:41AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Economy
Big Papi a big hit at his Baseball Hall of Fame induction
Former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was inducted into the Hall of Fame as legions of fans cheered him
2:46AM ( 9 minutes ago )
'The money is gone': Evacuated Ukrainians forced to return
Tens of thousands of people who evacuated from Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region are returning to homes close to the front line because they can’t afford to live in safer places
2:18AM ( 37 minutes ago )
Myanmar executes NLD lawmaker, 3 other political opponents
Myanmar has carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years with the hangings of a former National League for Democracy lawmaker, a democracy activist and two men convicted of targeted violence after the military takeover last year
1:51AM ( 1 hour ago )
Nigerian Amusan gets world record on wild night in hurdles
Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan set a world record in the semifinals, then ran an even faster, wind-aided time in the final to take the gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at world championships
1:37AM ( 1 hour ago )
Police: 2 killed, 5 injured in shooting at Los Angeles park
Two people were killed and at least five others were injured after gunfire erupted at a Los Angeles park
1:33AM ( 1 hour ago )