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Tunisia’s constitution committee rejects president's proposed constitution

President Kais Saied of Tunisia, right, receives legal expert Sadeq Belaid at the Carthage Presidential Palace in Tunis, June 20, 2022. (File photo by Tunisian Presidency)

The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee has denounced a proposed constitution published by the president, saying Kais Saied is after imposing a unilateral charter in the country. 

Former constitutional law professor Sadok Belaid said on Sunday Saied’s version was dangerous and did not resemble the first draft proposed by the committee. “…it is our duty to strongly and truthfully announce that the constitution that was officially published… and presented for referendum is not relevant to the constitution we prepared and sent to the president,” he said in a letter published by the Assabah newspaper.

Belaid said the draft contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”

Last year, Saied used an “imminent danger” clause in the current constitution to dismiss the government and control executive powers, establishing one-man rule.

The president has not commented on the constitution since he published the text on Thursday in Tunisia’s official gazette.

The country is expected to vote on the new constitution in a referendum on July 25.

Under the proposed constitution, the government would respond to the president and not the parliament. Saied would also be allowed to present draft laws and have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets.

Tunisia's powerful General Labor Union has already stood up against the president’s bid to overhaul the constitution to his own ends, saying it threatens democracy. In a statement on Saturday, the union said the draft includes broad powers for president and a reduced role for other bodies and institutions.

In recent days, the Tunisian people have held huge demonstrations across the country in a public display of opposition to the proposed constitution.

Saied assumed power last year. He dismissed the constitution so that he could rule by decree. The 2014 constitution was the result of intense negotiations among political parties and civil society groups. The president also dissolved the elected parliament and dismissed scores of judges.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Belaid, who has been appointed by Saied to draft a “new constitution for a new republic,” said the proposal to limit membership of the Constitutional Court to judges named by the president would undermine the body’s independence.

Saied’s seizure of power initially appeared to win broad support among Tunisians amid an economic and public health crisis, but it later caused growing opposition, even from major domestic players who were initially supportive. His opponents have slammed the move as a “coup,” while rights groups have warned the country could be sliding back into autocracy.

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