Tunisians vote
(Photo: AFP)

Tunisia votes on controversial new constitution

Tunisians started voting on Monday (July 25) in a referendum on a controversial new constitution put forward by President Kais Saied that critics say would hand him wide powers. Polling opened at 6:00 am local time (0500 GMT) at around 11,000 voting sites, with polls expected to close at 10:00 pm  (2100GMT). The figures include about 356,000 voters registered overseas, for whom polling began on Saturday.

Nearly 9.3 million out of Tunisia’s 12 million population  — of civilians aged above  18 — have opted in or been automatically registered to vote, according to ISIE, the electoral commission. The ISIE has stated that referendum results will be announced between July 26 and 27. The result will determine whether Tunisia changes from a hybrid parliamentary system or a presidential one.

The vote comes one year after Saied sacked the government and suspended the parliament, arguing he needed to act to save the North African country from a severe political and economic crisis.

The new constitution allows Saied to continue to rule by decree until legislative elections are held in December and puts executive, legislative and judicial powers in the hands of the president.
The previous constitution, adopted in 2014, was a hard-won compromise between Islamist-leaning and secular forces. It gave incontestable rights and liberties to citizens and especially to minorities and the judiciary was independent.

Despite calls to boycott the vote by opposition parties and civil society groups which accuse Saied of attempting to turn Tunisia into an autocracy, analysts are expecting the referendun to pass amid a low turnout.

Economic decline since 2011 has left many people angry at the parties that have governed since the revolution and disillusioned with the political system they ran.

Few international observation missions are present: the one from the African Union, from the Arab League and from the Carter Center.

With reporting by ANSA, Al Jazeera, DW