President Kais Saied’s constitutional reform was adopted with an overwhelming majority of over 94 percent – albeit with less than 30 percent of the vote. Only a quarter of those entitled to vote voted in favor of the new constitution.
But since there is no minimum turnout requirement, President Saeed’s new constitution is effective immediately. It corrects development in two fundamental points: first, the President will concentrate practically all power in the future state and need not fear any supervisory authority. Even the judiciary and the Constitutional Court are dependent on him. This can very quickly lead to authoritarian rule.
Secondly, the state and religion in Tunisia have become more closely linked since independence. Freedom of belief given by the 2014 constitution – no longer mentioned in the new constitution.
Lessons for the political elite
These are drastic changes and the question arises: why do people deprive themselves of suffrage and give up political and personal rights?
It is a vote against the economic and political crisis in Tunisia. In addition to worrying about politics, voters have other concerns in their everyday lives.
This was already shown by the reaction of the population when President Said dismissed the government and suspended parliament a year earlier. The majority responded positively. Finally, rein in a self-assured political class that had been plunging the country into deeper and deeper trouble for a decade. Tunisian voters have little faith in parties and politics.
The low turnout is not just because of the boycott call by most of the parties. Already in the 2019 parliamentary election, the turnout was only 40 per cent.
Islamic Ennahda as a Reason for Constitutional Amendment
Almost all the parties that have ruled Tunisia since the revolution have been penalized by the electorate and become practically irrelevant in the next elections. The only exception is the Islamist Ennahda. Till now it has been the only party to set the tone in all the governments.
But Islamists have lost huge numbers of voters in every election. In the first election of 2011, he received over 1.5 million votes – just less than 561,000 in the previous parliamentary election. But that was enough to remain the single largest party as elections are less mobilized than before.
In the meantime, however, Islamists have become so unpopular that it was a good argument for Kais Syed to revise the constitution: one of the promises was that he wanted to dissolve the Ennahda’s corrupt network in administration. It was true that six days before the day of polling, Rachid Ghanouchi, the Speaker of Parliament and head of Ennahda, was being questioned by the Inquiry Magistrate in a corruption case.
Tunisia doesn’t love its political elite – President Said has been the big exception so far. He was given the charge as a political novice in 2019. He still seems to be benefiting from this bonus.
A good section of the electorate voted for the constitutional reform of Kais Syed as they were fed up with the feuds between the established parties. Or because they want to support the president, less because they basically agreed with him. Perhaps this is the hope that things will be better again after everything has happened.