Tunisia's President - new constitution

Written by Haniya Ali 12:31 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

Tunisia’s New Constitution: A Stronger President but a Weaker Country

In times of economic uncertainty, unemployment, and poverty, President Kais Saied seemed like the only hope for the citizens of Tunisia. However, Saied’s new constitution has only made matters worse. Haniya Ali assesses the changes in the constitution, noting that it has increased the presidential powers, creating a system where the president has little to no accountability. On the other hand, Tunisia’s economy is still suffering, and with it, so are the people.
About the Author(s)
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Haniya Ali is pursuing her bachelor's in government and public policy at National Defence University, Islamabad. Her hobbies include cooking, nature photography, reading, and traveling.

Introduction

The ebb and flow of Tunisia’s politics and power greatly affected the constitution. Despite being the supreme law of the people, the constitution changed twice in seven years. Tunisia’s President Kais Saied proposed the draft of a change of constitution in 2021. On May 22nd, 2022, President Kais called for a referendum on whether to change the constitution or not.

The referendum took place on July 25th, 2022, and according to the head of the electoral commission, Mr. Farouk Bouasker, the institution will accept the voting in favor of the change as 94.6 percent of ballots said “yes,” with a voter turnout of 30.5 percent. However, many of the opposition called it a fraud.

Tunisia’s new constitution, as explained by many, is a way of sweeping more power into the hands of the president. At the same time, the supporters of Kais Saied say that it’s a promising step taken by the president to deal with the political and economic chaos in the country.

How is Tunisia’s New Constitution Different?

Tunisia’s new constitution disintegrated the old parliamentary system, which was the country’s form of government since 2011. The newly formed constitution consists of the following distinguishing points:

  • According to Article 101 of Tunisia’s constitution, the president will have the authority to appoint the prime minister and his cabinet. Before the change, the Parliament had this power.
  • Article 87 states that the president executes the executive function with the government’s help; however, Article 112 states that the government is answerable to the president.
  • Article 102 states that the president may dissolve the government or any individual member.
  • According to Article 61, a lawmaker’s term in office will get revoked under certain circumstances in the election legislation.
  • Without elaborating, Article 69 states that legislator-submitted draught laws and proposals for changes to existing regulations are unacceptable if they “upset the financial balances of the state.”
  • The new constitution calls for establishing a new “Council of Regions” as a second chamber of Parliament. Although it provides little information regarding its election process or powers.
  • Article 109 states that the president will have the advantage of immunity throughout his tenure and is not accountable for his actions.
  • The president is the head of the armed forces, while in the previous constitution, it was under the control of Parliament.
  • Article 136 states that the president or at least one-third of the Parliament’s members has the authority to request a revision of the constitution. However, modifications cannot modify the constitution’s two-term limit for the presidency.
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Why was there a Need for Change?

Tunisia’s current president consolidated his authority in the year 2019. Saied made measures that raised concerns about the sole democracy in 2011. Many unwanted events occurred, including his dismissal of the cabinet, suspension and, ultimately, disbanding of the legislature, and overturning of the 2014 constitution. These were named the “Bloodless Coup.”

Since the revolution that toppled former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has not seen a political crisis of this magnitude. According to Saied, his actions were required to usurp authority from the group of politicians he has dubbed as corrupt. Saied won the support of people before as he was the only ray of hope who could take them out of the dark times of poverty and clamor. However, public aggression has significantly grown due to the continuous cycle of economic distress due to inflation, unemployment, and low public services.

Problems Faced by the Tunisian People 

Tunisia’s economy is currently in a terrible situation. Although however, the public sector consumes the state’s budget. As per the estimation of the World Bank, the debt of 2020 was 70% greater than the GDP, while actual debt levels may be significantly higher. Moreover, Tunisians have long relied on the state as a source of employment and subsidized goods and services, leading to an unsustainable economic imbalance. It is because the country lacks a robust and well-regulated private sector.

Significant “terrorist” assaults, the recruitment of young people by the ISIL (ISIS), widespread unemployment, corruption, and an economic crisis are just a few of the critical issues Tunisia has had to contend with. Ennahda, a Tunisian party, has won the majority of votes in all parliamentary elections since 2011 and is blamed for many of the issues.

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Ennahda, a party formerly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, now calls itself a “Muslim Democrat” organization. The party claims that it has actively collaborated with other parties to be inclusive, despite the allegation of opponents that it has not done up to the mark to bring about the change promised in the 2011 revolution.

Tunisia held parliamentary and presidential elections in September 2019. However, the controversy of Nabil Karoui’s detention and social media political manipulation claims ruined them. Kais Saied, a retired university lecturer who campaigned as an independent candidate, scored a resounding victory on October 14th and was elected president.

However, the opposition is growing concerned about his impact on Tunisia’s democracy and has called for a boycott of the election on Monday. He is a populist who many see as an effective means to stop what they view as a “corrupt” political establishment.

Narratives of the Stakeholders

Saied’s actions were not supported by most major political parties, pushing his supporters to abstain from voting. Said Benarbia, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists, claimed that the “proposed constitution” would establish an unchecked presidential government with an omnipotent president, a helpless parliament, and a weak judiciary.

Many Tunisians were much more concerned with the escalating economic crisis and dangers to the public finances, resulting in wage delays and the possibility of shortages of essential subventioned commodities. As a result, the largest union in Tunisia organized a significant strike against the government’s economic reform proposals on June 16th, which resulted in the closure of ports, airports, and public transportation.

Only 450,000 individuals participated in Saied’s January online consultation with the public on a new constitution. The civil society also showed concerns about the data management of the votes. They believe that wrigging must have happened, so to prove them wrong, the government should publish the record.

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Conclusion

Unarguably, Tunisia’s new constitution envisions a presidential system that is an autocratic system in which there is little to almost no check on the actions of the president. It paves the way for a deplorable dictatorship that will take the country back to the times of 2011. The idea of a new constitution only resulted in chaos without helping the tail-spinning economy of the country. According to the report of Trading Economics, Tunisia’s GDP faced a decline in 2022 following the worst political crisis in the country.

The prognosis is that the condition of Tunisia might get worse, and this change of constitution won’t result in being a blessing for the country and its people. Institutions are the pillars of the state; Saied’s inclination toward the authoritarian way of governing by eradicating prominent institutions like the Parliament will cause further problems.

Moreover, the country’s crumbling economy will keep deteriorating because the government cannot pay its internal and external debts. The trade balance deficit hit the highest level of 14 billion Tunisian dinars in the last seven months, which worsened the situation even more.

A development strategy with serious, effective, and immediate measures and policies to save the economy will be necessary to resolve the situation in Tunisia. The problem will worsen if this doesn’t happen soon, causing severe social unrest with unpredictable consequences.


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