Tunisians vote in referendum on widely-bashed constitution

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Tunisians vote in a referendum on a draft constitution put forward by the country's president, at a polling station in the capital Tunis, on July 25, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Tunisians have taken to the polls to cast their ballots in a referendum on a new constitution promoted by President Kais Saied, a widely-bashed vote that is feared to grant the executive head of the African country sweeping powers and set the ground for autocratic rule.

Voting started at 6:00 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) at around 11,000 polling stations across Tunisia on Monday, with some 9.3 million out of the country’s 12 million people being eligible to vote.

The vote comes a year after a dramatic seizure of power that saw Saied unseat the government and freeze the parliament in a power grab that his rivals condemned as a coup.

The plebiscite was boycotted by the opposition parties and civil society groups over accusations that Saied was attempting to undermine democracy in Tunisia and turn the country into an autocracy.

Having worked on the new constitution for several months, the Tunisian president published a draft in the country's official gazette earlier in July. The proposed constitution is set to grant the president the authority to name and sack the government without the approval of the parliament as well as appointing judges, among other powers.

The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee denounced at the time the proposed constitution by the president, saying Saied was after imposing a unilateral charter in the country. Sadok Belaid said the draft contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”

Tunisia's powerful General Labor Union (UGTT), however, says the proposed constitution preserve chapters related to freedoms and rights, but that some restrictions and the absence of guarantees could threaten these freedoms and rights and offer an opportunity to violate them.

The Tunisian public have held several thousands-strong demonstrations across the country to show its opposition to the president’s proposed constitution.

The 64-year-old president has vowed to protect Tunisians' liberties and described the new charter as a "correction" and a return to the path of the revolution.

The draft constitution, if approved by the majority of Tunisian voters, would replace a 2014 constitution that curtailed the president's powers in favor of parliament and the prime minister.

Voting is set end at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) and results are expected to release late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

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