Dismantling Democracy

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Tunisians went to the polls Monday to vote on a new constitution that would grant the country’s president significantly more power, and likely eliminate Tunisia’s democratic gains more than a decade after ousting autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last month, President Kais Saied unveiled a new constitution that – if adopted – would give him the ability to extend his tenure beyond the two-term limit and increase the powers of the presidency, while curbing those of parliament.

Tunisian opposition leaders, jurists and international organizations criticized the charter, saying that it removes the necessary checks on presidential powers and “would return Tunisia to an autocratic constitutional order.”

Many Tunisians said they would boycott the referendum. In recent days, hundreds of demonstrators against the new constitution have clashed with police.

Saied, meanwhile, says this new constitution protects freedom and democracy, as well as establishes “a state of law.”

Monday’s referendum comes a year after Saied suspended parliament and fired the prime minister, citing the country’s economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, he has ruled by decree and fired dozens of judges, which critics say undermines the country’s independent judiciary.

On Monday, exit polls showed turnout as low as 25 percent. Results are expected to be released later this week.

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