Thursday July 28, 2022

Saied’s move gives thumbs up to statute

Saied’s move gives thumbs up to statute

Kais Saied

Tunisia’s new constitution, prepared by President Kais Saied’s team of experts, seems to have the stamp of approval of the people. It is a constitution that gives greater powers to the president. Saied says that it is a constitution that will check the corrupt political elites and he has promised that the basic freedoms promised in the 2015 constitution have been retained.

Tunisia is the first Arab country in 2011 that witnessed a popular protest that got transformed into a popular upsurge that overthrew the dictatorial government of Zainul Abedine, aptly called the Jasmine Revolution. Saied who got elected on a popular vote in 2019 wanted to get out of the political and economic impasse of 2021 by dismissing the parliament and the judges and assumed full powers to himself. The political opposition saw this as a return to the pre-2011 dictatorship. Saied has been arguing that he needs to clean the system for it to function better. The opposition is not convinced, and it seems neither the people at large.

The referendum was held on Monday. The Tunisian Independent Higher Election Authority (ISIE) has announced the result of the referendum, and it shows that 94.6 per cent of the people approved it. But the problem is that only 30 per cent of the people voted. The opposition parties and their supporters had boycotted the referendum. So, it makes the overwhelming approval of constitution suspicious. Saied has so not shown any democratic sensitivity because he is convinced that Tunisia needs a radical makeover. The professor of constitutional law is determined to eliminate the corrupt politicians and their patronage system. This is indeed the attitude of all authoritarian rulers. They feel that they are doing some good and unpopularity does not matter.

The test of the new constitution and Saied’s declaration of pious intention lies in the election that is expected to be held under the new constitution. It is more likely that the existing political parties will not be allowed to enter the fray, and the voting in the general election could follow the pattern of that of the referendum. There would be an overwhelming vote in favour of Saied’s supporters though the number of people voting in the election would be small. Though Saied wants to revive the economy through efficient governance, he may not succeed for too long if he continues with restrictions on political activity, and he would not allow room for criticism of the system.

Nejib Chebbi, a leading member of the opposition formation, the National Salvation Front, said in a press conference that the low turnout delegitimizes the referendum process. Founder of US-based Centre for Islam and Democracy Radwan Masmoudi said, “You can’t approve or adopt a new constitution with less than 30 per cent of the voters.” US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said in Washington, “We also note concerns that the new constitution weakened checks and balances that could compromise the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

But it has been noted that despite his unpopularity in the traditional political circles, Saied enjoys the support of a wide section of the people in Tunisia who are fed up with political corruption and that could help him through a short period. The people are worried about the economic future of their children and grandchildren, but even for them a dictatorship is not acceptable. It has been the case that dictatorship is not equipped to deal with an economic crisis. The democratic change brought about by the Tunisian revolution of 2011 had lasted a decade though political trouble was brewing all the time. It would be a sad day if democracy goes under in the name of fighting corruption.

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