Tunisia's Constitutional Referendum
- On Monday, July 25, Tunisians participated in the long-awaited constitutional referendum vote, scheduled one year after President Saied initially suspended parliament.
- This date also reflects Tunisian Republic Day, recognizing Tunisia’s 1957 vote to abolish monarchy rule and establish the first republic.
- The constitution draft would shift Tunisia’s government from a hybrid parliamentary system to a presidential system, in which the president holds the executive, legislative and judicial powers.
- The previous constitution, adopted during the post-Arab Spring environment in 2014, separated the powers of the president, government, and parliament and established a system of checks and balances with a separate judiciary system.
- Opposition parties have cited Saied’s unilateral action as a coup, threatening the return of Tunisia’s pre-revolutionary autocracy.
- The constitution was accepted in preliminary results released Tuesday evening, July 26, by the Tunisian Independent Higher Election Authority (ISIE).
- Preliminary votes reported that 94.6% of voters supported the new constitution. However, this number is skewed due to a 30.5% voter turnout.
- Oppositional parties, including Ennahda, who held the parliamentary majority before its dissolution last July, boycotted the election.
What invoked the referendum?
- On July 25, 2021, Tunisian protesters took to the streets, calling for the removal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the halt of parliament. Their disapproval stemmed from a poor COVID-response, a collapsing healthcare system, and consequential economic problems, including high unemployment rates and fewer state services.
- That day, Saied responded by suspending parliament as well as the immunity of parliamentary members and removing the prime minister. Saied cited Article 80 of the Tunisian constitution to legally validate his decision making, which states: “The President of the Republic, in a state of imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence, is entitled to take the measures necessitated by this exceptional situation.”
- Throughout the past year, Saied has repeatedly taken unilateral action by abolishing parliament, arresting government officials, dissolving the High Judicial Council, and deciding to amend the constitution.
- More information regarding the timeline of Tunisia’s political developments is available here.
- While many refer to this action as a coup, Saied’s supporters cite his efforts as a response to the original July 25 protests and an attempt to undermine mass political corruption.