Saied supporters celebrate new constitution, but turnout is low | Political news

The opposition largely boycotted the referendum, refusing to legitimize President Saied’s new constitution.

Some Tunisians began celebrating the victory of the “Yes” vote in a constitutional referendum organized by President Kais Saied, although the electoral authority said only about a quarter of registered voters turned out.

An exit poll from Sigma Conseil, a Tunisian polling firm, said 92.3% of voters backed the new constitution, which opponents say will entrench one-man rule.

Only 7.7% voted “No”. Of some nine million registered voters, only 1.9 million turned out to vote, with the opposition mostly opting to boycott the vote.

A few hundred people gathered on the steps of the Tunis Municipal Theater to sing and chant popular slogans as cars circled Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which saw the final chapter of the 2011 uprising that toppled the authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and started the Arab Spring.

A few hours later, they were joined by Saied himself, who gave speeches and answered questions from the local and international press.

Saied seemed sure his constitution had been approved, calling the day of the referendum a “historic moment”.

Low support

Saied’s supporters expect a radical change, if not miraculous solutions, to the economic conflicts that have fueled protests and strikes in Tunisia.

Sharan Grewal, an assistant professor at the University College of William and Mary in Virginia and a nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera the opposition could profit politically from low turnout.

“It depends on how they frame it. This shows that 72% do not support Saied’s project…,” Grewal said, adding “but that assumes they were actively boycotting, not just not voting.”

Grewal said the way for opposition movements to convince ordinary Tunisians that the majority of them were against the plan “would be to stage one big protest” rather than a series of small ones.

The opposition had struggled to unite ahead of the vote and staged separate anti-referendum protests.

It is not yet clear how Saied plans to proceed.

No minimum level of turnout has been set for the referendum, so the constitution, which will move the country from its current hybrid parliamentary democracy to one where the president has sweeping powers, will be adopted.

Saied, who has ruled by decree for a year, has already gained significant power, overthrowing parliament and sacking dozens of judges.

Said Benarbia, the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Commission of Jurists, who has always been outspoken about Saied’s various actions against the judiciary over the past year, told Al Jazeera that the new constitution risked serious abuses of power, and warned that the changes fundamentally undermine human rights and the rule of law.

“Under the proposed constitution, parliament and the judiciary are subordinate to the executive and the president,” Benarbia told Al Jazeera. “Their powers and abilities to control the executive have either been weakened or removed altogether.”

The opposition now fears that violence against anti-referendum protesters ahead of the vote and legal proceedings against opposition figures, such as Ennahdha leader Rachid Ghannouchi, are a sign of things to come.

“All checks and balances that were provided and guarantees of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary have been removed,” Benarbia said, adding, “making the police directly subordinate and accountable to the president… [is] move from a rule of law framework to a police [only] responsible to the president.

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