Copy of 2022-07-25T092221Z_970707323_RC2XIV9EVRG2_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA-POLITICS-REFERENDUM-1658747041893
Tunisia's President Kais Saied casts his ballot at a polling station, during a referendum on a new constitution, in Tunis, on July 25, 2022. Image Credit: via REUTERS

Tunis, Tunisia: Tunisians head to the polls Monday to vote on a new constitution _ a controversial initiative spearheaded by Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Monday’s referendum marks one year to the day that President Kais 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.

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.

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

Saied has urged Tunisians to back the proposal. 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 per cent 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 grants limited powers to a president elected with a large majority but gives more power to the prime minister. Ben Salah says Tunisia became ungovernable due to years of conflict between the three branches of government, accentuating the country’s economic and social crisis.

Former Minister Hatem El Euchi believes the unification of executive power could ensure stability, revive the economy and investment and create jobs. Tunisia’s National Institute of Statistics say the unemployment rate stands at more than 16 per cent while inflation has risen to 8.1 per cent.

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